In much the same way that you need to outline the action points in your plot, you should map out the relationships of your characters. Creating the backgrounds for your individual characters is important, and I covered that with this series of articles about building characters. Here, I am talking about mapping out the relationships between your characters. The goal of this process is to give structure to the relationships in your story. Knowing the individual traits or attitudes of your characters is important, but knowing the history and events in the relationships of your characters is equally important.
Let’s say that you have three lead characters (just to keep it simple): Allen, Jillian, and Lisa. A character map would map out the relationships and past interactions between these three characters.
- Allen and Jillian are married.
- Lisa is Jillian’s younger sister.
- Jillian views Lisa as being more successful and attractive than she is.
- Allen thinks that Lisa is an annoyance, and dislikes any contact with her.
- Allen has brought up his dislike in the past and has had Jillian get upset, so he no longer mentions it.
- Lisa envies the relationship that Allen has with Jillian and misses the days when she and her sister were closer.
- When Jillian and Lisa were younger, they both competed for the same guy, Wes, and Lisa won out. The relationship ended quickly, but it has created a slight distrust between them.
- Jillian has gained weight recently, while Lisa has been losing weight and getting fit, which makes Jillian feel increasingly insecure.
The series of relationship ties can go on and on. The important point is that you map these relationships out so that you know how each character feels about the others and why. That way, as events play out in your novel, you will have a better idea of how each character will react to the actions of the other characters. You may not want to, or need to mention every item in the relationship map over the course of your novel, but knowing that these relationship intersects are there will give you a better view of how these characters will react to each other and why.