Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Character's Network

Quote: “Sometimes the relationship that your character has with other people around him will be important to the story, but often they’ll be there merely to give a sense that he has a full life, or to add an occasional comic touch. No matter how you use these mini-relationships in your story, though, the main benefit is that your character won’t seem to be puppets, alive only when they’re on stage and someone is pulling the strings.”
--Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card

Song Playing: Mad World by Gary Jules

Progress Report: Editing is going well. Slowly, but I am marching ever onward. Inevitably, like time and twinkies.

Today we’re going to talk (or post) about a character’s network. Not who they get their Internet from, or their marketing strategy, but who they hang out with.

You interact with all sorts of people every day. At work, at home, at the store…these are places that your character will come into contact with all sorts of people. Weird people, stuck up people, old people. Young bratty kids with sticky fingers, punk teenagers wearing too much make up and listening to loud music, mothers with harassed looks on their faces and a pack of kids. Guys in three-piece business suits glued to their cellphones, twenty somethings holding hands with thirty somethings, and little old ladies with blue hair. You get the picture.

These are the people—and more—your character will hang out with. And not everyone acts the same way around each group of people. How your character interacts with these people help show their personality. We’ve all heard the adage of how a person acts alone says a lot about them. How your character acts when he’s around another group of people also says a lot about them. And not just in the obvious way of he kicks helpless puppies when people aren’t around, or helps little old ladies cross the street. Does the store owner know your character’s name as she walks in the door? Does said store manager greet your character with a smile or with a frown? Even something as small as that can clue your readers into what sort of person your character is.

These outside interactions can also complicate the story and add a touch of realism. If your character is a jerk to all of those around him, and starts running from the cops, he might slip into his corner grocery store. All of that lip he gave the store owner might come back and bit him in the butt when the store owner throws him back on the street just in time for the cops to catch him.

I like to separate who my character comes into contact with into groups. Their family is an obvious group, as are friends, co-workers, and daily interaction. Daily interaction qualifies as the people they see on the street on the way to the store, at the store, while clothing shopping, while eating…you get the point.

After I develop some personality traits, I like to figure out how they interact with other people close to them. Take a Type A personality type, a corporate mogul kinda guy who has to be in control all the time. What do you think is going to happen when this guy sees his father? Would he show deferment and respect to his old man? Or would he be overbearing even to his father? Both reactions would say something about his character, and be interesting.

So the next time you think about characters, don’t forget to look further than just inside their personality for clues to who they are.


  1. I like your thoughts on characters. Loved the quote from Orson Scott Card. I often interview my characters to find hidden layers to their personality. It's amazing what I find out. ;)

  2. Thanks for commenting and following Kathi! I love to interview them after I have a handle on their personalities to get the juicy stuff.