Monday, August 8, 2011

Using Relationships To Shape Your Novel

Okay, so I've been working on edits for SURRENDER (a Possession novel, coming next summer. Did you like that seamless plug? Ha!), and I've been learning more about writing in the process.

First, let me just say that every book has it's own process for drafting, revising, and editing. I didn't draft Surrender the same way I drafted Possession. I didn't revise it the same, and I'm learning that I'm not editing it the same either.

This whole writing thing is an interesting beast.

Second, I've learned some things about editing (and my process) during this round of work on Surrender that I thought I'd share. There are three areas, and because I'm a huge fan of the short blog post, I'm going to break this up into three posts.

Up today: the relationships in your manuscript.

Relationships between teenagers can be volatile, fiercely loyal, and very intense. I seem to be able to do this with people who like each other but aren't supposed to. Everything else, uhhhh, needs some work.

So during this round of edits, I'm really exploring the relationships between my characters. Are they friends? Good friends? Best friends? Do they like each other at all? Why or why not?

I've realized that the relationship between people shapes and dictates everything in the novel. The thoughts the MC has. The conversations people have with each other. Another's perspective of a relationship.

It's been eye-opening. Maybe you already know this. I think, way down deep in the recesses of my head, I knew it. But it hadn't translated onto the pages of my manuscript.

So I'm working on strengthening and further defining the relationships in my novel, and then using them to guide the dialogue and action.

It's a lot of work, as anyone who's revised a novel knows. If I changed one aspect of the relationship on page 6, everything beyond that changes. How the MC feels, what they might say, what they might think/not think, etc.

But I shall prevail! And my book will be better for it.

Have you realized how important the relationships are in your novels? Do they shape everything else?


Stina Lindenblatt said...

My deal is relationship between my main characters and their parents. Sarah Dessen's great at this. Me not so much. In my mind, they're just there to pay the mortgage (or rent) and supply the food. Now you see how I viewed mine when I was a teen. :D

Em-Musing said...

Relationship IS the story in my novel.Translating the story that I see, hear, and feel in my head to paper though, that's the toughie.

Jackson Porter said...

Relationships play a huge importance in books - they give you more to write about.

Nah, I'm just kidding. In my book the relationship is simple, but in book 2 I changed one thing and the whole trilogy is gonna go a different way.

In times relationships can be unimportant - twilight, and at times they can be very important - Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.


Jen Daiker said...

Great post Elana! I think relationships can really make or break a novel. If someone doesn't feel they're friendly enough with the MC, when they're supposed to be, the writer could be in trouble... which is where I sit now.

I agree with you though, every book is told differently, therefore the process on writing it is entirely different!!!

Wendy Paine Miller said...

Absolutely! I'm a character woman. Relationships are the foundation of my work.

Great post.
~ Wendy

Matthew MacNish said...

I think the "defining" it is the key. Personally I have a very in depth understanding of the relationship between each and every character in my book, because they exist, fully-formed, within my mind. But it's getting the evidence of those relationships down on the page, it such a way that it occurs naturally, that's hard.

Kelley said...

Relationships between characters are HUGE for me. I need to see the dynamics between people to really get into the story. Can't wait to read your book POSSESSION btw. It's on my (way long) TBR list :)

From your newbie follower

Jemi Fraser said...

I love the relationships between the characters - best part of the stories for me. I've been beefing up the relationship between the mcs and the more secondary characters lately.

Krista said...

I also like to define relationships that a character had in the past. Maybe the MC had a friend that really made an impact on her. I find this helps my characters feel more real.

Stephanie McGee said...

Relationships are definitely a stronger element in the book I'm currently drafting. It's interesting to think about it right now and realize that I'm doing pretty well (at least in my head) at letting relationships define and be defined by interactions and what happens on the page.

Magan said...



Okay...I'm done.

This was actually a great posts about relationships in writing, if only my characters were a crazy young mother and a laid back southern computer programmer.

Bish Denham said...

Relationships are what life is all about so it stands to reason they would be a driving force in a novel.

My own life would be rather hollow were it not for the people I know/have known.

Donna K. Weaver said...

That's a brilliant observation, Elana. Relationships on paper need to be strengthened and defined, just like real life ones. Maybe that's why we can connect so well with the well-written paper ones.

Tiffany Garner said...

I definitely agree with this. In my YA epic fantasy series, almost the entire plot revolves around relationships, whether they be family, romantic interests, best friends, or mortal enemies. One character has so many different relationships that it can be hard to develop them all. I never succeed in getting them all down in the first draft, and frankly I don't think that's possible. I always have to go back, mostly because I learn more about the relationship as I write.

I'm excited for your book, Elana! I'm sure it will be great! And given the relationships in POSSESSION, you have nothing to worry about. :)

Tere Kirkland said...

Ah, relationships and revision. It's hard for me to keep track of what the reader knows about each character when I change and re-order huge chunks. So I've been trying to keep track of each scene the side characters are in and how they interact with the mc in my notebook. I may have to transfer this to a FreeMind map or something, though, since I keep scribbling things out as I edit.

Good luck with Surrender!

David Powers King said...

Relationships is one of those main aspects I look for in books, and in my writing. I don't know why, but I'm a sucker for "will Y end up with X at the end?" And if the tension is good, that's a plus.

Great post, Elana!

Angela Brown said...

The relationships are so pivotal. They provide the framework for tension building, the opportunity for conflict and friction between characters. When well developed, they rock a character's world without having a whole lot of action.

Sarah Allen said...

So true! My WIP is actually all about relationships, and my MC struggling to keep them the way they are. Great post, looking forward to the next two installments :)

Sarah Allen
(my creative writing blog)

Miriam Forster said...

I have a book waiting for revision where the main thread is ALL about the friendship between two characters. The book is actually waiting for me to be a better writer so I can pull it off. :)

ali said...

The book will absolutely be better for it!

I think I don't delve nearly deep enough in my revisions. Must work on that. Thanks for this, Elana!

Susan Aylworth said...

Mostly I've written romance novels or family stories where the relationship IS the plot. That makes it easier to realize. :-)

Looking forward to Book #2.

Abby said...

I think the book will be awesome and this is a wonderful post. Revising is difficult yet crucial.

Meredith said...

Yay for book #2!!! And I try to pay attention to relationships as I write, but I really focus on it when I revise--you're right that it can change everything!

Cynthia Lee said...

Yeah, I need to work on relationships in my WIP. I noticed last week that I've sorda forgotten about an important character for the past 50 pages or so.

I felt pretty dumb. :)

Krispy said...

I think it's interesting you point out how we know that relationships are important to the character arcs and to the story, but we don't necessarily how much they affect other aspects of the story. It's so true, and now I'll have to pay more attention to that ripple effect!

Jeff King said...

Yes, it does shape everything else.

great post

Ishta Mercurio said...

YES, definitely. I actually had to make significant changes to my Chapter Book because I realized that the relationship between my MC and her father hadn't translated properly onto the page.

That's the tricky part for me: making the right words appear at the right times to make the relationships evident and organic, and NOT letting my ideas about plot interfere with the nature of those relationships. Tricky, tricksy stuff. said...

I think that, as in life, character and relationships drive all the best stories, even the ones that are primarily action. That's because who we are drives our actions and reactions, and we make the story through our choices.

L.T. Elliot said...

I think the relationships are everything. Well, to me. No man is an island, no matter how much he wants to be. When a story does the relationships right, I fall in love. No matter what it's about.

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