"It was imprudent of us, in the first place, to become authors. We could have become something regular, but we managed not to.
We were lucky, but we were also determined." Roy Blount Jr

"I don’t change the facts to enhance the drama. I think of it the other way round, the drama has got to fit the facts,
and it’s your job as a writer to find the shape in real life."
Hilary Mantel

Monday, January 29, 2007

Charting Relationships

Today I'm sharing an aspect of my writing process, because I've actually illustrated it! And I'm very pleased with the way it turned out.

Over the weekend, I finalised a chart showing character relationships and interactions. It's an ongoing exercise, and over time things get ever clearer. I'm very visual, so I'm always excited when I can work with coloured crayons or my sketching pencils.

Here's the relationship chart:

And here's the key to the colours and shapes:

D1, C, A1 and M are the four primary characters, and the only viewpoint characters. D2 is a very significant secondary character. A1, N, W, and J pop in either in the beginning, middle or throughout the novel and are in some way connected to the others--by blood or by marriage or by inclination--and have important functions in their own right.

My four categories are really stripped down, simplified to the max. Obviously all these relationships have complexities that aren't so easily illustrated!

Positive: Friendship of some sort exists between A1 and W, and C and W. All are male. M and W are a compatible married couple.

Mentoring: M (female) mentors D1 (female). A1 (male) mentors C (male). N (female) nurtures C (male).

Antagonistic: I've got female-female, female-male, and male-male combinations. D2 (f) dislikes D1 (f). D2 (f) dislikes C (m). J (m) antagonises C (m), M (f) dislikes A2 (f), and A2 (f) dislikes D1 (f), who dislikes her back.

Volatility: There is great tension, change and growth in the relationship between D1 (female protagonist) and C (male protagonist). It is a passionate one, in the emotional as well as the physical meaning of the world. A1 and D2 (parents of D1) have an extremely volatile relationship, resulting in strife, but their volatility has rewarding aspects as well.

By the way, all of these characters were real people. I know what they looked like, in some cases I've read their diaries or their letters or seen their handwriting or know what kind of clothes and jewels they wore. My depictions of them are based upon the historical record combined with some imaginative speculation to fill the gaps and create conflict (although some of the conflict existed in real life!)

I create a variety of character charts and biographies and timelines, far more complicated and informative than the little diagram above.

Illustrating the plot is much harder to do. The action of this novel developed out of personal histories (i.e. the characters themselves), political and social history of the 20-year span I'm following, dramatic events that actually happened (with eyewitness accounts), and plenty of scenes I've made up.

In general when developing a novel, I write from an outline that covers the full scope and action of my story. I definitely know where I'm going, and have a fairly good idea how I'll get there. When writing a specific scene, I'm usually guided by a few sentences describing the people involved, the location, the action, the basic conflict and the outcome. Sometimes, in the course of writing a particular scene, or chapter, any or maybe all of those things might change.

Now I must return to my laptop. I'm in composition mode at the moment, and have put the crayons aside for the time being!

And in case you're wondering, today's section includes M, W, and if I'm really on a roll, A1 and D1.

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