Thursday, April 19, 2012

Editing Series - Strengthening Connections Between Characters

Yesterday, I talked about creating a likable protagonist.  Today, I'll talk about strengthening the connections between characters.  Why is this important? Because no one exists in a vacuum.  Even if you're writing a fast paced thriller, where plot is the most important element in your novel, your characters have relationships with other characters.  Those relationships are a great source of conflict, and a great way to add depth to your characters. 

So how do you do this?  You Slow Down.  Waaaay down.  Doesn't make sense at first does it?  But think about it.  You're writing a novel.  Not a short story.  Not flash fiction.  Not a poem.  A novel.  Novels are huge, unwieldy things, a lot like our lives.  And in life, relationships evolve over time.  I hate to break it to you, but Love At First Sight and Happily Ever After only works in the movies where stories are compressed into two hours. 

Take the time you need to develop your character's relationships.  Have fun with their ups and downs.  Let's take a very basic example.  A love story.  Girl and Boy meet.  If they fall in love immediately and everything perfect and easy for them, you don't have a story.  So what do you do? 

Easy.  Break everything down into small moments.  Girl and Boy meet.  Maybe they're not in love, but in lust.  Maybe they don't even like each other.  Maybe they're involved with other people.  Take that first moment and blow it out.  Expand it and make it full of tension.  Give Girl and Boy an obstacle to overcome.  Maybe Boy plays the ukulele and Girl has made a vow never to date ukulele playing boys because a ukulele playing fiend killed Girl's Mother. 

Move on to the next moment Girl and Boy are together.  Maybe they're a little closer now.  Think baby steps.  Maybe Girl realizes she is attracted to Boy, but she fights that attraction due to her horrible history with ukulele players. 

Next moment.  Again, baby steps.  This time maybe Girl is lost in an unfamiliar city, when suddenly, she hears the plucky sound of a ukulele.  She thinks of Boy.  Follows the music to its source where she finds...not Boy, but ukulele playing fiend who killed her mother!  And who should be next to him...Boy!  At this moment, Girl realizes that Ukulele fiend is Boy's Father. (Cue dramatic music.) 

Now, Girl and Boy have another obstacle to overcome.  Another reason to slow down their relationship.  Think of it as a dance.  Your characters move together, then come apart.  They come together again, only to pull apart.  Until ultimately, they end up wherever you want them to be. 

The problem a lot of writers (including me) have is that their characters move immediately from one emotion to another.  They miss the steps in-between.  They miss that dance.  (I'm picturing a tango.)  And since they miss that dance, they lose any tension between their characters. 

It might seem like putting obstacles between characters would drive them apart, but think about real life again.  If you go through something especially difficult with someone (death, sickness, financial troubles, whatever) that shared experience can often make you closer.  It's the same with your characters. 

Remember, it's a dance.  Come together.  Move apart.  Together.  Apart.  You'll not only strengthen the connection between those two characters, you'll add another layer of tension to your story. 

And here's a secret.  Did you notice that everything I did to build the relationship between Girl and Boy added to the plot also?  Good fiction is like a spiderweb.  Everything's connected.

1 comment:

  1. Really good advice, and really hard to accept sometimes. I ran into this in the second novel I finished. It felt right to draw out the relationship precisely because that's what happens in life, but I kept wondering about the pace of the story. Like you said, doing it that way with road blocks, and mini and even maxi breakups, added to the tension and overall believability. It is a novel--take the time to do it right. Now if I can just get the damned thing published. Oh, and for a future endeavor, I may be stealing that idea of a ukulele-playing fiend...;)