Relationships are at the heart of fiction and life. They are what make our own lives have value and make a book worth reading. Sometimes it can be tempting to remove road blocks such as misunderstandings and failure to see eye to eye on things from between your protagonist and his/her sidekicks, mentors, etc.
However, in doing so we really do a disservice to our stories because at the heart of all stories isn’t just relationships… there’s also conflict. Our character’s problems and how we do or don’t deal with them are how we keep a story going and our readers reading. Do you know what you call two characters without conflict of some kind? “Happily Ever After” or “The End.” That’s right, the story is done between them.
So, conflict between even the best of friends and lovers is a must… however, the conflict has to make sense in the context of their relationship. How do you do that? Well, even characters who are utterly in sync with each other emotionally will vary in how they relate to others. This is where a tool from rpg storytelling comes in VERY handy.
A relationship map is like a mind mapping exercise where the lines between characters show you what one character thinks about the other. For instance in a romance the two main characters might have arrows pointed at each other which read “I love you” but maybe they hero’s mother in law is where they differ. The male character may “love and respect” his mother while the heroine may find her “annoying and catty.” The difference in how these two see the same secondary character is RIFE with conflict for you to exploit as a storyteller.
Additionally, the importance of subtext can not be overstated here. With a relationship map you can easily define emotional states and opinions that might not be spelled out for the reader but implied strongly. Backstory that need not be revealed right away (or ever) that adds a layer of depth to your world and will keep readers engrossed in your setting, in love with your characters, and even developing story theories of their own.
Have you ever done a relationship map for your characters? Comment below and tell me about it!