Feb 16, 2017
Writer Trick: Map of Character Reactions
Mind maps are useful tools for writers, and I've used them in various ways, mostly for character-building purposes, but I've never thought to use them to map out the emotional reactions between characters. Somebody mentioned the idea in a blog post, and I thought that it sounded very useful, especially for someone like me who has trouble with getting across genuine character emotion. (It usually takes me at least three drafts. I can get the plot down pretty easily, but then I need to build layers and layers of meat around the bones, interior monologue, character thoughts etc. I'm so jealous of those people who get it all down in the first draft.)
The idea behind a character reactions mind map is quite simple: just get a big piece of paper, write down all your major characters, and start drawing lines. Try to think not so much of plot but subtext. Why does Minnie hate Mo? What happened between them? Do they have secrets? To get the most out of your characters, you want to have plenty of lines connecting them to each other. If you find that somebody is left out of the web, maybe think about a few more connections to make her integral to the story, or consider whether you need her at all. (This is a great way to cut superfluous characters. Just shove two boring characters together and see if they make one interesting one.)
When you're drawing the lines, you might use a different color or line type to mark positive/negative reactions. For conflict, you need the characters to clash. So if somebody is looking like she's getting along with everyone, mess it up for her. Even the people on the same side should have some seeds for conflict between them, even if it's not major.
The best thing about a mind map is that it's easy to play around and try out ideas. Just draw a line between two characters you didn't think were connected. What if they are? How? If it feels silly, you only lost a few minutes, not hours of writing time.
I'm definitely going to try this technique. If you're familiar with it and know where to find a book on the subject, do tell us in the comments.