Part 2 of 2
Okay, you’ve had some time with the Rule Book Relationship Chart …
Remember: you can substitute your characters’ names for the character type across the top, and the change the emotions listed along the side as well.
Once you’re finished making the initially pass, we can start having fun!
#1: Look at any missing boxes. Are these emotions that your character should have or are they not important to the story? Try putting yourself in the character’s shoes – based on what you know of them already, how would these emotions make them react? If you used someone you already know as an inspiration for the character, imagine them is a similar situation. Remember, the more you know about the character, the better they will respond to what you want them to do.
#2: Now, highlight the characters that have similar emotional reactions. Do you have characters that overreact when angry or shame-filled? Or ones that recede into the woodwork when feeling shy? These characters might share qualities that make them potential allies – they have something in common and this might be useful in upcoming scenes. However, while it might be interesting to have two similar people reacting the same way in the same situation at the same time, it might not make for good drama. Play with it for a while before you commit to it.
#3: Now look at those characters that have emotional responses that are completely different.
This can play out in a couple of ways:
a: The characters could be complementary, such as one that needs to be cared for when hurt or frightened and another who is happiest when caring for others. This creates a natural bond – and may be something you hadn’t realized before. They can make for strong allies.
b: However, characters can also clash and be naturally adversarial if their emotional responses do not complement, such as when one is deeply embarrassed when confronted and another is abusive when angry. This creates organic conflict on an emotional level and has the potential for exciting drama.
#4: So, ask yourself:
- What makes this character relatable? What will the reader find endearing, interesting and/or vulnerable about this character based of their emotional response? This is vital because your ability to attract an audience depends upon making this connection, especially with the major characters.
- Based on your chart, which characters are driven to move forward but are emotional held back by something? This illustrates their basic humanity and builds that reader-protagonist connection.
- In what ways do the emotions of any individual character seem to contradict each other? That is to say, in what ways are your characters broken? We like our characters, especially the Heroes and Villains to be a bit like broken toys, walking/talking puzzles with a couple of pieces missing.
- So, in what way are they strong yet helpless? Happy yet have real shame issues? Frightened yet courageous? This is the real nature of a human being – a collection of contradictions that fight for control in our lives. Through this, the reader will be able to see something of themselves in the characters. Seeing those missing pieces put into place makes for satisfying storytelling. And it’ s what makes a dedicated fan out of a casual reader.
#5: At the heart of every character-oriented story is the emotional arc of the hero – that profound change that makes all the conflict and turmoil of Acts 2 and 3 worthwhile. And this chart shows you the way to create that. If, say, your hero’s main emotional stumbling block is that he can’t get past his anger, then the change is:
From Angry -> Acceptance
… and each trial that he faces from the First Plot Point through to the Climax peels away at that anger – layer by layer – like the leaves on an artichoke to reveal the true nature that lies at the heart of every character. (Keep in mind that we’re looking for an artichoke here and not an onion: a weak character is one that has nothing deeper than anger to sustain them and it just doesn’t work.)
Similar arcs for the other emotions we’ve talked about would be:
From Hurt -> Healed
From Frightened -> Secure
From Embarrassed -> Self-possessed
From Shy -> Courageous
From Helpless -> Capable
From Guilty -> Vindicated
From Shameful -> Virtuous
From Sad -> Joyful
Play with this awhile and you’ll see how it can deepen your understanding of your characters. The more you know about how they can react, the most fully you can write them.
The Next Step: The next task in the process of understanding characters is to chart out the way each character relates to one other, highlighting and developing the potential conflicts and contradictions we’ve discussed here; there’s a chart I use for this as well.
If interested, I can do a post on that– just drop me a comment here if interested.
These, then, are the tools we can use to build the conflicts throughout the story for both our plotline and our emotional arcs.
Remember: creating three dimensional characters in your story gives the reader someone to identify with and root for. It creates that vital, emotional bond between the writer and reader.
And it makes your writing a deeper and more authentic expression of who you really are!
So . . . until next time, keep writing ==
If you missed Part 1, read it HERE.
Art Holcomb is a screenwriter and comic book creator. This post is taken from his new writing book, tentatively entitled SAVE YOUR STORY: How to Resurrect Your Abandoned Story and Get It Written NOW!
He is also a frequent contributor here at Storyfix.com. Use the Search bar to the right to find more Art Holcomb gold.