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.
[tweetthis]#writetip – A story is simply a series of conflicts between characters.[/tweetthis]
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!