Tag Archive: character sketches

Character Development: The Interaction Chart

Last week I shared Ten Questions To Ask Your Characters to make sure the supporting cast is as well-rounded as the protagonist. But that’s just step one to developing a novel’s cast. Now that we know who everyone is, what they want, and what their role is in the story, it’s time to figure out how they interact with each other.

Character Development-Interaction

How To Make a Character Interaction Chart

To start, list all character names in the left column and the top row, beginning with the protagonist. Read across to figure out how that character interacts with the other characters; read down to find out how others react to that character.

Character Chart

The above example is super simple just so I could demonstrate how to read the chart. Now for the details of what goes in each little box…

1) Relationship.

State the basic status of the characters’ relationship. Do not only use words like “brother” or “neighbour” or “wife.” Though descriptive, these definitions tell us nothing about the characters’ personal interactions. Instead, clarify the relationship with words like: ally, enemy, friend, lover, competitor, etc. After all, one’s brother can be an ally or an enemy.

Also note if the relationship changes over time; two brothers may start as enemies and end as allies, or two co-workers may start as friends and end as lovers.

Another thing to consider is that the characters may see their relationship differently. One may think they’re dating, but the other thinks they’re just friends with benefits. This is why in the chart there are two corresponding boxes for each relationship – one for each character’s POV.

Character Different Opinions-Chart

 2) Behaviour.

How do the characters behave around each other? Some examples: friendly, hostile, affectionate, dismissive, concerned, suspicious, etc. Like with the relationship status, these behaviours can change over the course of the story. Also note if there is a difference in behaviour when two characters are alone with each other versus in a group.

3) Opinion.

What do the characters think of each other? This, of course, can vary greatly from their behaviour. As we all know, people often hide how they truly feel about a person (i.e. behaving in a friendly manner when deep down they hate the person and are planning their demise), but of course you the author must know the truth.

How to Use a Character Interaction Chart

A story is simply a series of conflicts between characters. Charting your characters’ interactions is an easy way to see if you have enough conflict. When I first made this chart I realized I had conflict between the protagonist and the antagonist, but minimal conflict between my protagonist and the other characters. No wonder my first few scenes had turned out a little flat. And this chart makes it easy to see that conflict doesn’t have to be openly hostile; it can be a secret difference of opinion or an awkward behaviour. And last but most important, make sure all this conflict affects the protagonist’s journey.

In conclusion, use this Character Interaction Chart to ensure you have enough conflict between the characters to sustain the story.

What about you, fellow writers? Do you use charts to map character interactions? Or do you have another system? Let me know in the Comments!

 

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Top Ten Things Writers Should Ask Their Characters

A week before NaNoWriMo began, I realized I didn’t know my supporting characters. Whoops! I had spent so much time figuring out my plot based on my heroine’s goal that I had neglected all the other characters, of which there are many because I’m writing a horror and a body count is required! But I didn’t have time to do full character sketches for all of them. So I came up with ten questions to ask my characters that cuts to the essence of their very souls — in ten minutes or less.  🙂

TTT Writers Should Ask Characters

1) Who are you? This question encompasses more than just basic facts like age, gender, profession, family status, etc. It gets inside each character’s head and finds out how they describe themselves versus how the world sees them, which may also be very different from how you the writer see them. This isn’t the truth of the character; this is their own bias towards themselves. Knowing a character’s personal bias is indispensable when figuring out how they would react to events in a story and what actions they would take. For example, the best villains see themselves as the hero of the story and act accordingly. Now what if your hero sees themselves as the villain? Or the loser? How does that inform their behaviour?

2) What do you want? Every character wants something, even if it’s an uninspired desire like being left alone to binge-watch Netflix. It’s important that each character has something they want that relates and/or conflicts with the plot, hero or other characters.

3) Why do you want it? An important follow up to the previous question. There must be a reason why your characters want what they want. Perhaps the Netflix watcher just broke up with his girlfriend and that’s why he would rather stay home than help his friends on their quest. So now you have conflict (a character who does not want to be on this quest with the hero) and relatability (a character we empathize with because we’ve all had relationships end).

4) How do you plan to get it? This is obviously a very important question for the hero because the whole story hinges on how the hero plans to achieve his goal. But secondary characters have plans too. Maybe Netflix watcher wants to get this quest over with asap so he can go home. Or maybe he realizes that helping the hero will impress his ex and gets a little carried away with the heroics. In short, this question helps the writer determine how the character interacts with the plot.

5) How do you handle crises? Stories are full of problems and setbacks and crises, so it’s essential to figure out how each character reacts to the troublesome twists and turns of their life (aka your plot). This question is especially useful if you have a group of characters in crisis together to make sure that they don’t all react the same.

6) What are you scared of? Knowing characters’ fears also informs how they would react in crises. Are they scared of what just happened or merely annoyed? If they’re not scared of the bad guys in the story, what are they scared of? Even the bravest character must fear something.

7) What is your weakness? This is not the same as a fear. I think of a character’s weakness as something they struggle to resist, something that will tempt them away from the story’s goal and/or create conflict with the hero. To use Netflix watcher as an example, his weakness could be his ex. If she calls and wants to talk, he’ll be tempted to abandon the hero and quest.

8) Who do you love? Even the most cantankerous character loves someone. Perhaps they only love themselves or their dog, but that’s something. Who they love can be their motivation or their weakness or their strength. It’s crucial to know which.

9) Who do you hate? Not all characters need to hate someone; the absence of hate is important to note as well. Which characters have enemies? Which are everybody’s friends? Or perhaps their hate is not directed to a person but towards a thing or idea or movement. What irks them and how does this inform their actions within the story?

10) Why are you in this story? This is perhaps the most important question of all! Does each character have a role? Here are some general examples: antagonist, voice of reason, comic relief, hero’s confident, troublemaker, love interest, smart one, victim, betrayer. Bottom line, there must be a reason for every supporting character to be in the story. Watch out for characters who play the same role; you can probably combine them into one.

I hope these questions help you develop your characters. I’m not quite done answering these questions myself, so if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to finish that and get started on NaNoWriMo. Good luck, everyone!

 

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Write What You Know? Bah.

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We all have ideas rambling around about writing projects that never get written. We pick things up from time to time and file them away for future recall as something strikes us and the need to get it out is overwhelming. This happened to me yesterday as I was reading one of my writing magazines. I read an interview that raised my eyebrows over my steaming cup o’ joe. The debut author, a science fiction writer, admitted she didn’t read science fiction – in fact she wasn’t particularly drawn to it. Hunh? It sure puts the kibosh on the phrase “write what you know.”

“Writers must read,” it is said. In order to become familiar with our genre, to get new ideas, to see how the masters did (do) it, one must read more than one writes. A turn of phrase, a new word, a beautifully, nay artfully, described scene must be absorbed and studied; it’s invigorating, by golly, and will get your synapses racing.

Makes sense. Get a feel for how it’s done. That is to say, how others get it done.

I love to read, but my spare time is spent writing first, then reading. I can’t seem to stop the voices in my head and they need to be put to bed before I am, the little darlings. I have read enough in my lifetime to get the gist of it.

But it got me to thinking. We’ve had discussions here at WOS about critique groups and the impact of others on our work. I found critique groups somewhat useful when I started, but the amount of time spent getting the pages ready, critiquing others and evaluating the comments is a bad investment for me. When I didn’t have a full-time job, it was a nice way to spend an afternoon with fellow writers, but at the end of the day I went down my own path.

Which appears to be what this young lady is doing. She struck out on her own, with no road map, no precedent set before her, no rules, and no guidance, apparently. She listened to the beat of her own story, didn’t compare herself to others, and just told the tale that needed to be told. I don’t know if she had input from others (probably so), but if she did, I imagine she just shrugged it off.

So, as I do often, I did a character study of her, this woman who so intrepidly went forward with a story she had no background or interest in. I have the beginning of a short story:

Her name is Sally. No, Sarah. She’s young, not married yet, no children, a college graduate, probably a business major, slogging away in a corporate job that drains her of all her humanity. Her boyfriend reads a lot of science fiction, and she rolls her eyes and sticks with him because he’s cute. She’s an Austin/Forrester/Galsworthy/Wharton kind of gal. So she sits and listens to the music and the dialog of the movies he watches or the video games he plays and starts to make things up, if only to drown out the nonsense she’s exposed to.

She keeps her writing a secret. She sneaks in a paragraph or two at work (probably pages, but I won’t tell), dreams about the story, and gets up in the middle of the night because the aliens or the monsters or the drones (whatever science fiction has, I have no idea) are percolating in her pure, young, virginal science fiction brain. She is open to come up with new concepts, new characters, and new ideas without the influence of the weird science that came before.

Influences come from all directions – as with Sarah, the background sounds of the science fiction movie or her boyfriend’s description of the book he was reading got attached to some part of her brain and she just started working it. This is where we get our ideas, no? Reading, watching, discussing, observing human nature sparks ideas and puts a new spin on things.

She didn’t ask anyone “what happens to…” “what do you think if…” “what would Zolna do…”. She asked herself. No. Scratch that. She didn’t have to. She just did it. It came out in a torrent, and it was perfect. (Hey, it’s my story and I can have Cinderella aspects if I want.)

Sarah was just as surprised as her friends and family when her book was accepted and published and when an article written about her appeared in a writers’ magazine. No one suspected she was a writer, and definitely didn’t project a science fiction genre for her.

So how does her story end? Her boyfriend proposes, the book is a bestseller, they buy a house, settle down, have a family, and she quits that corporate job. Her days are spent writing. And, oh yeah, she has a housekeeper who cooks. Sigh.

In about two minutes I had the entire story plotted out, and the magazine was still in my hands. Sarah’s success is effortless, there’s no conflict, and she’s an instant success. It has an HEA ending, she gets to write without interruption and no responsibilities. Where do you suppose that came from?

Sarah, if she existed, used the influences bombarding her on a daily basis and produced something in a genre she knew nothing about. I know people who deliberately go to Starbucks and eavesdrop for story ideas, and some who rip off other stories (Hollywood has been doing this for years). I sit in restaurants and watch other people and make up stories about them.

Where do your ideas come from, and when do they strike?

 

 

 

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