On one of the many, many airplanes that carried me home from Australia, I worked on a variety of questions that had been plaguing me about the Current Project. I feel bad for whoever was reading over my shoulder*, because they saw things like this:
____ hates _______ but is kinda into the brother.
____ likes ________ but is going to kill him (for real. like with a knife.)
____ totally wants to bone_______ because FEELINGS.
That wasn’t the worst set of notes I made that trip (more on than in another post, probably, if I remember), but it has it’s own little something.
What I was doing was working out relationships. Character development solo is fine, but what really makes characters for me is the way they interact with other characters. Who hates who. Who loves who. Who has strongly mixed feelings. Who, if given the chance, would put who’s eyes out with a knitting needle. It’s powerful stuff, and, if you play it right, it works out the entire plot for you. Because then a minimum of external prodding is needed. Instead, everything comes from how those people feel about each other, and the stuff they do because of that.
The people we hate are the ones we’ll go to any lengths to thwart. The people we love are the ones we’ll do stupid things for. And you want your characters to do stupid things. You want them to not think things through before they act because so much of their brain is tied up in FEELINGS. You want them to both fuck up immensely and be incredibly heroic**. And they’re only going to do that for people for whom they have very strong feelings.
Go beyond the simple; “A and B are friends” is fine, but “A and B are the kind of friends that you go to bars with but don’t ever call to talk about anything serious” is so much better. Because then when A does call B to talk about his divorce, B is going to flip his shit like scatologically-themed Cirque du Soleil. And that is fucking gold as far as story is concerned.
Nail those relationships down. Get the bones in place so you know how to mess with people. Because, as I say so often, that’s your job. Writers are the worst gods in any known universe: we fuck with our creations because we can.
So you might as well be good at it.
*Yes, I assume someone was. It was a sixteen hour flight. You can only watch so many movies.
**Note that the difference between these is often a matter of outcome.