Monday, January 01, 1990

Storymap Preparation--Create the Character Relationships

Now it is time to begin to draw the storymap. This is a tool to assist in visualizing the relationships and conflicts between the characters. Each major role should be written in a box and connected with lines to represent the relationship or conflict. Only relationships important to the central conflict should be included. These can be actual blood relationships but can also include ties of money, power, love or hatred. In other words, these relationships are the emotional bonds or obstacles between the characters. The nature of each relationship should be noted on the storymap as well.

During this process, more detail may be added to the major roles. New roles (major and minor) may suggest themselves. This is perfectly normal. If all is proceeding well, there should be a growing synergy amongst the players that will produce new and interesting ideas. Don’t be afraid to experiment.

If characters are the building blocks of a storymap, relationships are the mortar that holds them together. It is these relationships that provide context to the characters, which gives meaning to the choices that the characters make. It does not matter how interesting a character is. If his relationships are lackluster, he will ultimately fail as a character. So, in addition to having interesting characters, a storymap must also have interesting relationships.

So then, what makes for an interesting relationship? Again, a precise definition is elusive, varying from person to person. However, there are some common threads that interesting relationships share.

First, interesting relationships are relevant to the story. Every story has certain conflicts that are being resolved. If a relationship is not relevant to one of these conflicts, then it should be ignored. It is not interesting. For example, this means that you should ignore the relationship between your character and his greengrocer. Certainly they may chat every other week, but if their relationship is not relevant, then it is not interesting.

Second, interesting relationships draw on commonly held values. Part of what makes a relationship interesting is how well it resonates with the audience. This resonance is based on the values of the audience. So, for example, the relationship between a father and son has resonance; nearly every person understands this sort of relationship. Other relationships may have different strengths for different people or cultures. A Christian may weep when reading of the martyrdom of Latimer and Ridley, for he understands the nature and intensity of their relationship to their God. An atheist reads the same story and sees only folly; his value system does not see the merit in dying for a fable. So, when you are constructing your relationships, be sure that your fellow players will understand the underlying values, or be prepared to discard them.

Establishing interesting relationships is vital, for it is from these relationships that conflicts gain their strength.


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