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What Determines the Course of Characters’ Relationships?

A question put to authors on Alignable asked what determines the course of their characters’ relationships. I responded there but thought the topic made an excellent blog post.

A lot of what determines the course of a character’s relationships has to do with the character’s psyche at the beginning and how they must develop by the end. When I studied psychology, the person-situation debate always fascinated me, so when I write, I consider who the character is and how they’d react in the situation.

art fingers foggy hand

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The show Supernatural does this very well. Sam and Dean often react differently in the same situation because they’re different people. They evolve through the course of the fourteen seasons I’ve watched so far, but they remain true to their characters. Even Sam without a soul retains characteristics that make him Sam, and he behaves differently than Dean would in the same situation.

This topic came up as well when another author consulted me about two characters he had in one of his stories. They were both so similar they’d behave exactly the same way if placed in the same situation. This meant they were interchangeable, which, in storyland, makes one of them extraneous.

When I plan out my stories, often, the characters come first. This was the case in my novel Injury, which focused on an actress at the height of her career. The idea for it grew from an assignment my daughter did back in grade eight. She had to write a biography of a famous person, and part of the assignment required her to create a list of questions for that celebrity. One of the questions she listed was “If you could ask your father anything right now, what would it be?”

That question fascinated me, and I considered what it would be like to be a famous actress whose father had abandoned her. Then I thought about what it would be like if the abandonment story were a lie. Her whole self-esteem would’ve formed around the lie she believed, and now she’d have to change her self-talk to reflect the truth.

woman looking at sea while sitting on beach

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

In the novel, actress Daniella Grayson has always kept herself in the limelight, trying to get the attention of the father she believed abandoned her when she was five. Her past relationships were an unconscious search for a father figure. At the beginning of the story, Dani learns that her father’s remains have been found and her mother was arrested for the murder. Now she must reframe everything she believed about herself, her father, and her mother.

All my stories contain characters whose childhoods affected them and whose relationships molded them.

A prime example is The Hunted, which picks up the story begun in Storm Lake twelve years after Rachel and her brother encountered the monsters there. How Rachel has dealt with the trauma differs radically from how Jeff deals with it.

In Poison Pen, I have three main female characters, all authors, who must reframe their beliefs about themselves and their relationships after one of their colleagues (who is also the brother of one of the three) is murdered in the home he shares with his sister. Each main character had a relationship with the victim, and now he’s not only gone but his killer is still out there. This is a howcatchem rather than a whodunit, so the reader knows who the killer is, but the characters don’t realize he’s a member of their writing group. They all have a relationship with the killer, and the story explores how this murder influences all their interactions.

Poison Pen image courtesy of Patti Roberts of Paradox Book Covers

Poison Pen image courtesy of Patti Roberts of Paradox Book Covers

​In Gillian’s Island, an Ontario woman going through a messy divorce is forced to sell her island resort. She’s an introvert and must teach a developer from New York how to run the place when he buys it. There’s an instant attraction between them, but she labels him a playboy based on what she’s seen about him on the internet. She makes a lot of assumptions that affect her attitude and behaviour. At the same time, someone is sabotaging the resort, which complicates everything but also pushes them together.

purple crocus in bloom during daytime

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

In the Valiant Chronicles books The Experiencers and A Ring of Truth, the two main characters have been together in previous lifetimes but don’t realize it. I wanted to explore the idea that reincarnation exists, and its purpose is to fulfill destinies. The premise is that people keep coming back until they learn what they are supposed to learn to move to the “next level” or they complete some task they were supposed to complete.

To sum up: it’s all about the characters, who they are, who they will become, and what motivates them to behave the way they do and form the relationships they do. All of my stories explore relationships between characters because interactions with others are critical to character development.

2 Responses

  1. Great piece. An interesting aside is in my Darkly Wood II I introduced a minor character, he was no more than a device in the plot I’m my head, but as often happens with me, I allowed myself to question his motivation and developed his relationship with the main character- and he exploded on the pGe☘️🎈 It’s a funny thing we do🤔😷.. stay safe and keep well 🎈☘️

  2. Thank you!

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