Improving Your Fiction: The Relationship Chart — Part 3

A guest post by Art Holcomb.   Read Part 1 HERE, Part 2 HERE.


Before we pick it up where we left off last time, take a moment to review your work on your own Relationship Chart.  When you’re ready, we’ll move into the Bonus Round, where we look deeper into character and relationships.

On the sheet of paper or file you used earlier, write out your answers to the questions below:


Let’s take a look at how emotions in one character can trigger emotions and/or actions in others:

Start with the Hero.  Ask this question of each emotion you charted in the Rule Book.

  • When the Hero is (angry, sad, frightened, etc.) how does ____ react?

Do this for every major character. (This can be quite a list.)


A subplot is a secondary plot line that supports or supplements the main story.  In screenwriting, it’s referred to as the “B” story or “C” story and helps give rhythm and release to the tension of the main story conflict. All novels and films have them and often they stem from conflicts between other characters.

Now . . . name a conflict/tension that each character has with at least one other character.  What does this suggest to you? Does this develop into or deepen a subplot for the story?

THE BEST POSSIBLE– Make a judgment about the following:

  • Is my choice for Hero the BEST possible Hero for this story? Why?
  • Who brings the most conflict in the story?  Is that person the Villain?  If not, then why not?
  • How is the Villain a worthy match for the Hero?
  • How will I richly illustrate the Protagonist and Villain?  Are these traits revealed throughout the story?


List the most interesting relationships that you found in the Chart that you are NOT current exploiting.


Consider the following:

  • Who is the LAST PERSON (aside from the Villain) you could imagine coming to the aid the Hero? What if they did?
  • Who are you SURE WOULD NEVER turn against the Hero? What if they did?


  • Is the Hero involved throughout the story?
  • Does s/he control the outcome of the story? If not, why not?
  • Where is the Hero emotionally?
  • … at the beginning of the story?
  • … at the Midpoint?
  • … at the second plot point?
  • … at the end of the story?

We’ve only just scratched the surface of the gold that can be mined from a deep understanding of Character.  I encourage you to spend some real time exploring all the possibilities such an examination has to offer.  Powerful characters deepen the effectiveness of the plot, expand the story through relevant subplots, and make your story come alive on the page.

Take the Chart for a spin and let me know what you think.  I hope this series has helped you move closer to your best story.



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!


For those who have noticed, I’ve been MIA for a while.  A little traveling, a little teaching, a little family time.  Many thanks to Art, KM Weiland and Kay Kenyon for helping out with some great content.

I’ll back in Storyfix mode soon, beginning with the Q3 Newsletter catch up, then more content.  Lots to talk about you.  See you soon — Larry







Filed under Guest Bloggers

9 Responses to Improving Your Fiction: The Relationship Chart — Part 3

  1. Robert Jones

    I’m just getting caught up here. Lots to go through. I’m coming upon my own bonus round where the things in this post will help to evaluate each scene before the drafting process finally begins. Art has done such a wonderful job with this series. All I can do is add some personal notes on how such things might play out in planning the emotional content of each scene that I’ve recently found useful.

    Applying Art’s logic and Larry’s thoughts on planning an outline, I’ve seen my own planning process build to a point where the larger story beats on the beat sheet evolved to micro beats within each scene. At one point in Larry’s books, he mentions how each scene might evolve into a paragraph, then the paragraph be expanded into a scene. I like that notion because it implies a constant building throughout planning.

    Integrating Art’s recent series of emotional reactions/action as cause and effect, my scenes are now becoming a mini beat sheet within themelves, rather than a paragraph of discription on how each scene might play out. It looks something like this:

    He does this (stating an action that the first character is expecting a preconceived result).

    She does that (which is not what the first character expected to happen…at all. Each character having their own agenda).

    He now has a choice–and so does the writer. He can react to whatever happens immediately, but only if his reaction will highten the scene. Or, the writer can wait, keeping the reader hanging for what might happen next.

    If each scene has an agenda, or mission, once that mission is accomplished–whether it takes two beats (action/reaction) or half a dozen to build up to the most dramatic point, then that scene is finished. No lingering, no pondering, at least not without a very good reason. Because once those emotions are at their peak, a question is formed within the reader’s mind. And what Larry calls a cut and thrust is a springing forward into the next scene. Those questions go unanswered, emotions not yet satisfied.

    If a character is on a journey, how do they change emotionally from the onset to the end?

    One thing I’ve noticed on my own story journey is that the four part structural grid really is an emotional map as well. It mirrors exactly the problem solving responses we face in life whenever something devastating appears. Our lives get thrown into turmoil (PP1) and what do we do when in response mode? We either blindly panic, or try to desperatly for a quick solution, or remedy, as chaos ensues. No one sits down for a day, or several days, and thinks everything through to it’s logical course–mentally negotiationing the best course to a favorable solution. Few of us have that capacity when bad trouble strikes. It’s not a cold, physical response that follows, it’s an emotional one. A primordial lashing out, or flailing, depending on the circumstances. Or some combination of both.

    So we call a friend, a doctory, or maybe an attourney, who has their own agenda in how the matter should play out. We hand our problem off to a second party because we don’t want to deal with it. Not alone. Part of this process is seeking comfort, but is it the right person to whom we go seaking such comforts? And by passing it off to someone else, we also pass some (or all) of our power along with it. By the time we actually sit and think things over, all those “should have dones” are a forgone conclusion, right?

    We’ve all experienced emotional unpleasantries. And this is a model to capture those emotions vicariously while putting our heroes through response mode. Because it’s never pretty and seldom logical. The head and the gut frequently want the same things. And emotions take power over logic when they are engaged strongly.

    After a purely emotional response, how does the character feel, or react, while in warrior mode? How do you feel in hindsight once you realize you didn’t think clearly during the onset of a problem? How would you feel knowing you’ve given your power to someone else? Especially if that person turns out to have their own agenda that is self serving? Now you have to get that power back. That may not be so easy. Others may have complicated things on your behalf. There may be legal contracts involved. And whoever the villain is has used that time you spent running around to enforce the barricades against you. How do you feel now? Like a damn fool? Embarrassment and regret are also very strong emotions. Also great motivators for characters who messed up, or were taken advantage of.

    Part four, that tricky slope without rules, is about resolution. But how do you resolve? How often does it play out like the movies where the hero goes charging in and saves the day, gets back everything they lost? In reality, you’re most likely going to cut some losses based on the fact that the other party also believes themselves to be the hero. Sol Stein once said we shouldn’t think of having a protagonist and antagonist in out stories–but rather two protagonists and as writers, we take both sides. Isn’t that how things work in reality? Everyone wants to succeed in their own right, or wants a piece of the pie. And if you hired that attourney, they get a third of the pie. If it’s a friend, or relative, are they the sort who would imediately have their hand out for some type of recompense when all is said and done? How do you feel now? How do those emotions differ from those you encountered in the beginning? In life, even if you win, you’ve lost something. Time, money, a relationship. And happy, or sad, where’s the hero moving to next? How he feels about that is the emotion that lingers in the reader’s mind once they close the book. And you’re still cutting away at the hight of that emotional impact. So how do you wrap up most plot threads without lingering?

    The simple answer would be to cut and thrust right after the moment when the hero and villain have had closure scene to the argument that’s been plagueing them from the beginning. Show how this conclusion has effected others involved first, getting back to the heroes reactions/moving on moment at the very end. Because all the other threads are going to tie into that final emotional moment of the how and why the hero goes riding off into his/her future sunselt–happily, or bleakly–and leaving the reader questioning what they will do next. Or is it really over?

    Throughout planning emotions within the scenes, and the larger chunks of four part structure, Larry and Art have both been very helpful. But since we need to hear the same things said in as many ways as possible, I’ll share a couple of other ways in which the macro and micro reflect one another. If you look at each action having an equaly and opposite reaction (all forcing opposing and mirroring one another) then four part structure can be seen as a mountain. Climbing one side, up to the revealing peak of the mid-point, is the laying on of the problem, in all it’s grueling emotional torture, against the hero. The villain is waiting at the peak, showing us a glimpse behind the curtain and they are believing themselves the winner. Because their plans have been building against the hero from the FPP.

    The other side of that mountan (parts 3 & 4) reflects the first two parts, in that the hero is now building their counter attack. Forces are now building up in the heroes favor. Even if the hero ends up martyring themselves, we are marching toward an opposing/mirrored result of everything the first half of the story built up, or reflects.

    And this should help to point the writer in the direction that will give their story the greatest emotional impact. It might even dictate an ending that previously did not come to mind. Possibly not as squeaky clean, or as sparkly as banners being raised and trumpets blaring, but an original mixture of the pain and glory that reflects life.

  2. Matt Duray

    Thanks to Art for this fantastic series, and thanks to Larry for sharing it.

  3. The first two installments didn’t click for me, but reading this, it suddenly feels vital to my writing.

    Thanks for bringing it home in a tidy package, Art. Maybe your experience made it look so easy that I didn’t pause to see how deep these tools can go.

    Larry, so glad you’ve had these folks drop by while you’ve been out.

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  5. Morgyn

    Art, question re Trickster, Shape-shifter, Herald in your chart. Is there an element about these three Hero’s Journey archetypes that you find essential?

    No one asked,

  6. Art Holcomb

    @Morgyn: these characters are only as essential as you find them useful to your individual story. While they are found in most Monomyth-based story structures, their inclusion should be left completely up to you. An excellent (and very funny) explanation of these characters is found in the “Hero’s Journey” video post here in Storyfix.

    Thanks for writing!

  7. Daniel

    Thanks for these posts. I found many of these ideas emerging as I ploughed back and forth through my early drafts. To see these concepts written with clarity, and the questions they pose to deepen the story, gives me tools that will cut time wasted dithering in the dark.

    Like Robert said, these posts compliment Larry’s work, and I agree with Joel about how this third post in the series highlighted the significance of the earlier two.

    Writing is a friendlier place with a site like this.

  8. Morgyn

    Art, thanks for the answer. Had the sensing of suggestion,

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