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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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!
16 thoughts on “Character Development: The Interaction Chart”
I made a Google Sheets of this here:
Thanks. I found this very useful
I have tried this technique before, but such formal plotting tends not to work for me. But I do think the ethos is important, as the whole point of different characters is that they show different sides of themselves in their relationships. Thanks for sharing, Heather.
You’re welcome! Also note that this doesn’t have to be used before you write (i.e. a pre-plotting device); it can also be used afterwards during editing. Every writer has a different process and order of operations. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!
I agree! I have only writting one piece of fiction but I have written several training documents, manuals, SOP, and technical documents. This methodology is extremely helpful after writing in order to make sure that everything is connected! Thanks for providing a template.
That’s an interesting technique. I’d never really thought of making something like this because I can usually keep the opinions characters have of each other in mind while writing, but maybe I’ll adjust it a bit to use the graph as a “who knows the truth/what’s their take on the situation” charts. Could be interesting, and would make sure every character isn’t having the same reaction to a certain stimulus!
Thanks, Alex! The chart is definitely most helpful in stories with large casts. I’m writing a mystery horror right now, so I need a lot of people who can be suspects and victims, and a Character Interaction Chart is more to help me make sure the characters are diverse in their actions/reactions rather than to simply remember how they interact. It’s so handy to have a quick chart where I can see everyone’s behaviour at a glance. Makes similar characters really stand out!
Wow, Heather, your organizational skills amaze me. My character profiles look more like scribbles in my notebook. LOL
Thanks, Sue! I have always liked to organize and categorize things. 🙂
This is a fantastic idea! I’ve never come across this before but I’ll definitely try this. Thank you!
You’re welcome! Let me know how it goes.
The beat way I’ve found to chart this is by using Google Sheets. Give it a go. ^^
This is brilliant, a great way to make sure the characters are dimensional, and the plot suspenseful. The more complex each character, the more unpredictable the plot. Thanks for sharing this strategy.
You’re welcome! So glad you found the character interaction chart helpful. And I agree, complex characters make for unpredictable stories. 🙂
Great post. Awesome advice. 🙂
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