Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Writing/Gaming - Character 101 - Part 6 - The Relationships

This is Part 6 of the Character 101 Series. The previous parts can be found here.

Here's a brief summary:

  • Characters exist within a world that defines possibilities and suggest challenges
  • Characters have a set of abilities that distinguish them within the world and makes the reader want to inject themselves into the story
  • Characters are on a path that leads them through more than the book-plot.
  • Characters are more than a physical description, they also have mental and emotional attributes worth depiction.
  • Characters have a defined morality and philosophy that influences actions and decision-making, in more than just the plot. 
Today, we could end Character 101 with this post. And it may end, if the recent traffic is any indication (either what I wrote was too deep or too boring), but let's give today a fair shake. 

The last element of Character 101 can be expressed like this:

The character has relationships of varying depths, complexities and degrees so that the reader can see the created-person in a more complete context, and can sympathize/empathize.

It's a little appropriate that it's Valentine's Day as I write this bit about relationships. Today is the day for making mention of your relationships, even though I am of the part of the population that believes that if you're happy with your relationship, every day is/can be Valentine's Day in a new and different way, and that to commercialize love is the lowest form of obnoxious sales tactics and money hungry manipulation. But that's coming from me, so consider your sources......

Characters don't exist in a vacuum, they aren't adrift in some Void-space, they aren't just blobs of ink on the page. (Even if you did hurtle your character into the Void, it's likely you'd still make them think or feel stuff, so there would be some kind of bridge built to other characters). It's about those bridges that I want to focus today.

I am notorious for burning bridges and salting the earth. In the last few weeks, I've been launching an aggressive program to clean that up, because a lot of it comes from this horrifically insecure place and it's all misdirected anger and fear blah blah blah.....but it's really made me take a look at my relationships to other people and see just how I built those connections. (Yes, I did make a chart, shut up. They help).

Some of those connections are great, and I do not want to burn them. Some of these connections are awful, and I should do all that I can to put the past behind me and get some Grand Canyons between me and them.  I say this not to bitch about my personal life, but to point out that through these relationships, you can get a sense of who I am and/or what I do and how I do it. 

Characters are no different. You can look at their relationships and get a sense of who and what they are. Go get a legal pad, let's make a chart.

The Character Relationship Chart
note: Yes, you can do this more visually in a web, but I'm just blogging here, so I'll work linearly

1. At the top of the page, put the character's name (we'll call him A)
2. Write the name of the other character in the relationship (we'll call him B)with them (then in parentheses, write down the type of relationship next to the name)
3. List then a few phrases, adjectives, quotes or ideas that demonstrate how the character (A) feels about the other. (B)

Skip a line and repeat steps 2 and 3 until you have the character's relationships mapped out. Here's an example:

Character: Gordon Jeremiah Nevins

Bryan Alfred Nevins (brother)
* "What the hell trouble has he gotten himself into this time?"
* "Stupid dumb naive kid, but he's all I got."
* Begrudingly over-protective
* Only acts tired of the relationship.

Wynona (woman he sleeps with)
* Loves her, can't commit to her
* Would take a bullet for her, but wouldn't tell her that, in case someone has a gun handy
* "You look good" = "I love you"

By mapping out the relationships characters have with each other, you're able to also test their philosophies and see their paths play out over the course of the work. If your characters' relationships don't undergo growth from beginning to end (at least ONE of the parties involved has to change a little, otherwise readers are going to feel like they've wasted time and effort getting invested), then the sandbox they play in isn't testing them sufficiently. 

Here's an example from my life:

When I was feeling very down, disputatious and grumpy I treated other people poorly, and gave many others the impression that I was in fact, a melo-dramatic asshole with delusions of grandeur. (Or something, I don't know, but it wasn't good). After a few rather intense conversations with people who actually gave a damn about me (rather than just giving a damn about the work I could do, or the benefits I could give them), I started to rehab my image and after some rather big-deal admissions of apology and truth, quite a few people came around. So, because I had a particular philosophy, the world I inhabited tested me a certain way, which lead me down a particular path, that brought me to certain experiences and plots. Only when I made an effort to change, to push myself and change my thinking, did I discover and occupy a new path, that led me to new experiences and plots. 

It is through your characters' relationships that readers/players/consumers/others are able to draw a complete picture of the character. Just giving them a description and abilities is nice, but very bland and generic. Even if you throw in a moral code and a path, it's amorphous without a set of relationships to see it explored and strengthened/altered.

The point I'm making here is that all the elements of Character 101 are INTER-RELATED. To make those strong characters for people to gravitate towards, you need lay out all the pieces and get your Frankenstein on (put.the.candle.back.) 

There's no doubt in mind that if you take care to go through each step in Character 101, your characters, big and small will exponentially intensify and be far more satisfying to both create and use. 

Enjoy your Valentine's Day. Happy writing.