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Making your Relationships clear

PostPosted: Tue Mar 21, 2017 7:29 pm
by cjr1977
I'm wondering what strategies you use to show the relationships between characters. Two characters who were best friends but haven't seen each other in years, cousins who would do anything for each other, that sort of thing, I'm not really interested in romantic relationships here. Just how do you make your readers understand what you as the writer already know about these characters and their relationships? Its one thing I struggle with and sometimes even just overlook but I know the reader needs to understand it as well as I do just not sure of the how.

Re: Making your Relationships clear

PostPosted: Tue Mar 21, 2017 8:36 pm
by williamadams
doesnt matter what you know
what does the reader need to know

it is a mistake to try to tell everything about everybody
be selective
tell enough but not too much
start with what is needed to grok the story
occasionally tell some more but dont do a big core dump on page 1
or any page

and of course you tell the reader by showing them implicitly through what happens
not explicitly by a speech from you or a character.

Re: Making your Relationships clear

PostPosted: Tue Mar 21, 2017 9:13 pm
by Dreaming Imrryr

Re: Making your Relationships clear

PostPosted: Wed Mar 22, 2017 6:46 am
by robjvargas
I don't "tell" the reader anything. I try to understand the relationship, and then I ask how that relationship applies to the moment in my story.

They were best of friends, long ago.

Their eyes met. At first, John didn't understand why he looked at Dan. Wait. Dan! Jesus, it's Dan!. The rest of the world just sort of faded as John offered his hand and Dan shook it eagerly.

Emotion, action, atmosphere. These can says things well beyond what you can "tell" a reader.

Re: Making your Relationships clear

PostPosted: Fri Mar 24, 2017 6:40 pm
by Libris
As above, the most effective method is simply their reactions to each other. Trust in their interactions showing the reader what they are. If they've known each other long time, show that familiarity in their conversation, for good or bad. You can have them reference a shared memory, for example. It can be a lot harder than simply telling your audience 'they're old friends', but it's much better storytelling and more effective in getting the reader emotionally involved.

Jerry grinned, and tapped Fred on the shoulder with his knuckle hard enough to make him stumble.

"Hey, dweeb,you remember that time I pushed you off the cliff into Glimmer's Lake? You're mom wouldn't let me come over for weeks!"

Fred laughed, "You're still such a jerk! Don't act live you've grown out of it."

"And proud of it. I'm not allowed in half the houses in Covington."

Here I'm not telling you these two are friends, or that they've known each other a long time, but both of those facts, and the kind of friendship they have, comes through in the dialogue. They're laughing together about old times, and using slightly insulting names out of camaraderie.

Mary stopped mid-step down the hall to Biology, and felt an icy lightning ride down her spine.

Standing in doorway, to her classroom, was Jake.

Her heart began to pound like it was trying out for a death metal band. She felt bile in her throat. Quick, he was turned away from her. She could run. Skip Biology for today, skip school, run straight home.

She didn't. Mary couldn't have moved her legs if she wanted to. Pure terror had seized her muscles in a vice.

Jake turned, and his eyes were like oncoming traffic, hitting her and sending Mary flying in a terrible, slow motion crash.

Jake raised his eyes brows, "Hey, babe."

Her ribs had healed, her arm had no cast, her eyes were framed in eyeshadow and not bruises, but stuck to the floor in his gaze, Mary was a wreck again.

It's the old horror adage about how not actually showing us the monster makes it much scarier, but it works in every kind of fiction, not just scary stuff. I'm not telling you what Jake did to Mary or when, and if I did it wouldn't have the same impact as showing the pure terror she reacts to seeing him again. I'm getting across all the audience needs to know: They know each other, he hurt her, and she's scared of him. Leaving the how and why in the air actually makes it more effective and creates tension that wouldn't have been there.

It's something I have to work on myself, I'm constantly fixing the 'telling' into 'showing' when I edit my drafts, but my general rule of thumb is, if I can't get the information across in action and dialogue, does the audience NEED to know it?

Of course, there are times when telling can be a perfectly valid method of sharing information, but it must be used very wisely.

Tanya El Shur tapped impatiently at the pock marked desk, staring at the map. The shifting borders had been drawn and redrawn so many times they had become a miscolored smudge. She probably needed to order a new one from the cartographer's.

Vacon, that bastard, wouldn't be hiding his troops in any of the obvious places. He was too much of a smartass for that. They'd had spies on every one of the towers across the border, and their hadn't been so much as fly out of place. No, Vacon had always done things the hard way, even when they'd been in the military academy.

It was his strongest virtue, and his biggest flaw. She was going to pull a rug out from under his smarmy legs once and for all.

No dialogue here, since both parties can't be in the same room to have any. Instead, I reference their shared past quickly as schoolmates and move on, tying it into the internal dialogue Tanya is having on her current strategy and using that to portray her feelings on her enemy.

These are just my methods, anyway. :)

Re: Making your Relationships clear

PostPosted: Fri Mar 31, 2017 8:23 pm
by Alice Clay
I agree with the consensus - show your characters reacting to each other, in a conversation or event. The connection can be made by the character just thinking about what is going on. Tease the reader and don't tell all in one paragraph (or heavens no, an entire page). Hint there are other reactions to come.

Re: Making your Relationships clear

PostPosted: Tue May 09, 2017 5:34 pm
by Ingomayethu
Agree with everything on here... and want to emphasize how easy it is to do this through dialogue! The subtle (and not-so-subtle) differences between the way character X speaks to character Y, Z and Q will do a better job of establishing the range of relationships than an expository aside ever could, because the reader will be immersed in each relationship.

I think off-the-page character workshopping can actually be pretty helpful in this regard. Imagining or writing conversations between your characters that are not necessarily a part of your story. It helps me find a "voice" for their relationship... kinda like finding a "voice" for the character, because a good relationship is something of a character in its own right. It will grow and change and evolve just as a character does. And ofc you might land up using some of these scenes in your final manuscript (or a future prequel, sequel, spinoff or similar work).

Re: Making your Relationships clear

PostPosted: Tue May 09, 2017 8:33 pm
by Piccoro
You could try to give small details on how they have some of the same manners or like the same thing. If I understood correctly you want to show a relationship between them without letting the reader now how closely related they are right?

Re: Making your Relationships clear

PostPosted: Tue May 09, 2017 9:41 pm
by Noizchild
I think it's a matter of showing and not telling.