Monday, April 25, 2011

Pointing Out Character Relationships--Archery Anatomy

  I love it when a respected author gives me a suggestion that they personally use. This gives the idea credibility. Add the book I'm currently reading into the mix and it all comes to life. Okay, let me explain.
  Lisa Mangum visited my area on a Utah Humanities Council sponsered presentation, speaking on "Finding Your Voice", or using your imagination in writing. She shared many good tips but today I will focus on a visual aid she used where she mapped out character relationships with two-way arrows. Starting with the main character (Abby) after getting her idea for The Hourglass Door, Lisa looked for a love-triangle relationship. Visualize the MC's name at the top pointing to her ho-hum boyfriend's name at one bottom corner and the exciting, new love interest that enters her life in the other corner. Got it?
  Now the story needs more players. The MC needs a couple of girlfriends. two-way arrows connect these named characters. She also has family. More arrows. Perhaps a sister will have dialogue with a friend to whom the MC knows but never deals with. In this case, the arrow only goes from the sister to this friend, but not to the MC. The boyfriends also have companions or family that my enter into the story. As this happens, add them to the relationship storyboard. It is a way of visually seeing who connects with whom and the weight of each character. In Mangum's story, she didn't expect that one of Abby's girlfriends would connect with Dante's antagonist. When it happened, she drew another arrow. This led to Valerie having a greater part in the story than originally planned.
  Good stories have complex relationships where characters feel strong emotions. Mappin it out is an aid to accomplish this.
  This was fresh on my mind as I picked up my next reading choice. The story started with a couple on a date. Two names, one arrow. He takes her home and gets abducted. Arrow shoots off from the boy's name only toward an unnamed villian. Finding the villian takes a good chunk of the story. Little by little, we learn of the people the boy knew (more arrows) and the climate of those relationships. Police get involved. There are people the boy's father knew that could affect their involvement with this son. Arrows offshoot in various places and I could visualize it happening as each character was introduced. What makes the story interesting is the complexity of these relationships as they tie in with other people. Indirect arrows lead back to the kidnapped boy from four or five main contacts, some of which the boy didn't personally know. These relationships repeatedly focus on two or three main suspects before a new one comes to light. Complexity, you know? All to keep the reader guessing.
  Whether or not you are a visual person like me, I think many writers can benefit from some type of storyboard showing character relationships. I'm going to try it. What do you like to use?


Gail said...

This is a great way of looking at relationships. I'm very visual and I could see all those arrows.

Renae W. Mackley said...

I'm glad it made sense, Gail. It's hard to write out something that is visual w/o a diagram. Hope all you visual writers can use it if you wish to.

Canda said...

It seems like a good idea for looking at existing relationships and brainstorming new connections for plotting conflict.

Joyce DiPastena said...

I can't map out stories this way. I never know what kinds of relationships are going to form between which characters until they tell me in the course of my writing. Whenever I try to plan relationships out ahead of time, they don't happen on the page. My characters like to choose for themselves apparently. LOL! Diagraming is great if it works for you, though. It would make things so much easier if only it would work for me!

Renae W. Mackley said...

I totally understand, Joyce. Too bad not everything works for each of us. It's hard to explain in a tight space, but Lisa actually adds these names and arrows as they come up in the course of writing. Then, looking at the map, it is a way to do as Canda says above--brainstorm connections and conflict.