Improving Your Fiction: The Relationship Chart – Part 1

More goodness from guest poster Art Holcomb.

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Relationships are at the heart of all great stories.

They bond the reader to the work by giving them someone to root for (or against).  They are the foundation of the subplots which broaden and deepen our novels and films. And they supply the emotional reactions that propel the plot forward.

I first created The Relationship Chart to keep tract of the characters at work in my comic book scripts but I soon the discovered that it was a powerful tool for exploring and deepening the characters and forces within any story. When paired with what you’ve learned in THE RULE BOOK series, you will soon see the power you can create in your own writing by knowing who your characters truly are.

Before we begin: If it’s been awhile, please take a moment to review your Rule Book to re-acquaint yourself with the characters we’ll be discussing.

As a guide along the way, I have included a very basic RELATIONSHIP CHART-Die hard – 1a for the main characters in the film DIE HARD (1988, screenplay by Steven E. de Souza and Jeb Stuart). I use this movie as an example here because it is extremely well written and I find that most people are familiar with the plot.

As you complete your own Chart below, feel free to use the DIE HARD for comparison and inspiration.

Now . . . once you’re ready, let’s head straight to…

INSTRUCTIONS:

Attached here is the blank RELATIONSHIP CHART which is very similar to the one used for your own Rule Book.

First off, let’s replace the character types I’ve include with the names from your own story.  Make sure that each name appears twice – once across the top and once along the sides.  The dark squares in the Chart should correspond with the intersection to two identical names and don’t require any information.

Okay, once that’s done, let’s have some fun…

Part 1 – COMPLETING THE CHART:

FILL IN THE BLANKS: In each box, describe the relationship as best you can as concisely as possible. Follow the examples at the bottom of the Chart. The box will expand to fit whatever description you put there. (Remember, you may not use all the boxes, depending on the length and type of story).  Use the DIE HARD chart as an example.

(The point to remember here is that not all relationships are the same, in that how Character A feels about B will not be the same as the way that B feels about A. Perspective is everything.)

LABEL ‘EM: Now, take a look at each relationship separately and then make the appropriate mark in the box:

  • If the two characters are complementary (alike with common goals), mark it with a (+).
  • If they are adversarial and have natural conflict, put in an (-)
  • If neither is true, put an (=).

Part 2 – THE QUESTIONS:On a separate piece of paper or file, answer as many questions as you can:

GOALS: In this exercise, we’ll use the information you wrote down under the LABEL ‘EM section to create the following lists:

  • Which characters have CONFLICTING goals?
  • Which ones have COMMON goals?

THE HERO AND ME: The Hero’s Plan is the one that the readers are rooting for.  Show here how the two opposing sides might take shape.

Consider each character in relationship to the Hero:

  • “Is this person an OBSTACLE to OR is a PARTNER in the Hero’s Plan?”

(If neither is true, think twice about whether they’re necessary to the story.)

DIGGING DEEP:  Answers these questions as quickly as you can. If the answers aren’t on the tip of your tongue – or finger tips – deeper thought is needed:

  • What one word describes each character best?
  • What is the Hero’s flaw? How is it revealed? Is s/he blind to it?
  • What person/actor is the inspiration for the Hero? Villain? Others?
  • What does each character care most deeply about?
  • What is each character’s greatest fear?
  • What is each character’s motivationPossibilitiescan be:
    • Justice,
    • Revenge,
    • Connection with others/love/friendship
    • Home/Place in the World
    • Meaning or Purpose
    • Wealth / Security
    • Power over others / Control
    • Fame

SUMMARY: That wasn’t too hard, was it? And now you have the basis for understanding the depth of your characters and the possibilities of their relationships. Understanding exactly how each one relates to the other will make writing for them so much easier, and new possibilities for conflict, plot twists, and description will come to light with every review of the chart.

NEXT TIME: We’ll go even deeper into the heart of these characters and explore how this understanding can breathe new life into your story.

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Art Holcomb is a screenwriter and comic book creator.  This post is an excerpt from his new writing booktentatively entitled SAVE YOUR STORY: How to Resurrect Your Abandoned Story and Get It Written NOW!

10 Comments

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10 Responses to Improving Your Fiction: The Relationship Chart – Part 1

  1. Pingback: Improving Your Fiction: The Relationship Chart – Part 1

  2. Martha

    Amazing how these things come right when we need them! This is fabulous. Thanks for sharing your expertise.

  3. Abby

    I love these charts, Art! They help immensely, considering the OCD part of my brain. It also highlights the weak areas of the planning process.

    Larry – is there space on your site for a central list of charts and worksheets you and Art have made? It would be great to have these charts and the beat sheet, etc. all in one place. Great stuff, guys – thank you!!

  4. Awesome, Art! I’ve got two main characters who are both heroes, but their goals are opposing. This relationship sheet was like an epiphany for me, and I know I can use it to make their relationship deeper.

  5. Pingback: Improving Your Fiction: The Relationship Chart – Part 2

  6. What a fantastic post and equally tool!

    One thing occurs to me when looking at the chart: why are all those squares wasted, filled in with blue?

    Why not use those to describe the relationship each character has with his or herself?

    Just a wee thought…

  7. ”…Equally cool tool…” I should have written!

  8. Ken Bishop

    Excellent adjunct to The Rule Book, Art. Thanks for sharing your work. I really like these visuals. Good synergies with Story Engineering and Story Physics, too. Now on to part two.

  9. Pingback: Improving Your Fiction: The Relationship Chart — Part 3

  10. Pingback: Fiction Writing Tips Blog Carnival Issue #9 | Fantasy Scroll