6 Exercises for Stronger Character Relationships

Yelizaveta P. Renfro

As writers, we can spend so much time “fleshing out” our characters as individuals that we forget about the connections between them. That’s why I love this piece by Yelizaveta P. Renfro that offers six concrete ways to think about your characters’ relationships. Here’s an example of one of the exercises:

Bury your characters. Imagine that your fictional family has purchased a cemetery plot that will hold twelve: two rows of six, one above the other. Draw out the plot and think about who will be buried where. Who is already buried there? For whom are the other spaces reserved? Who will be next to whom? Who gets the space under the oak? Who will not be buried in the family plot? Why? Think about the family politics underlying these choices. What kinds of monuments will the family choose to mark the individual graves? Imagine a scene taking place at the cemetery. Who is visiting the plot? Why? What happens?

If you like this prompt, you’re sure to enjoy the others. Click here to read Creating the Fictional Family: No Character Is an Island, featured in the latest Glimmer Train bulletin.

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Jane Friedman
Jane Friedman has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. From 2001–2010 she worked at Writer's Digest, where she ultimately became publisher; more recently, she was an editor at the Virginia Quarterly Review, where she led digital strategy. Jane currently teaches writing and publishing at the University of Virginia and is a columnist for Publishers Weekly. The Great Courses just released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. She also has a book forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press, The Business of Being a Writer (2017). Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.
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    • Justin, I would see it only as a tool that brings a known template (the politics of burial in the family plot) to the writing process. For example, bury the protagonist in the top row, nearest as you can to the center. Decide where his wife is going to be buried. Beneath him in the second row? Nope, she’s decidedly not “inferior” to her husband. You can just hear her wonder out loud why he wasn’t buried at the end, where he belonged. I’ve just described the relationship between protagonist and wife. Next, I’ll wonder with words where his mistress should be buried.

      Authors tend to see the world through the hero’s eyes. This is one way to practice avoiding that limitation.

    • Yeah…I plan to be cremated and tossed somewhere, so for me there is no meaning at all to burial plots. None.  It is a hard concept for me to use as an excercise.

  1. Mind intriguing. Leads to more emotional thoughts. Who came to family Christmas. Who didn’t. Why? Physical illness, emotional trauma, or plain bullheadedness? What if father never laughed? Mother never left the kitchen. Or, an only child versus a swarming house of foster kids. Thanks for the springboard.

  2. And where’s the family pet? Not in the *gulp* Pet Cemetery?! (genre: horror)

    Also: who doesn’t stay put in the grave but chooses instead to haunt the living? (horror, I guess)

    And, who gets the stake pulled out of their chest and looks good as new after a nice drinky-poo of fresh blood? (supernatural)

    And which freak disturbs the grave to nab the elder wand (now, we’re talking!)

    And who, visiting the grave a couple of years later, cute-meets an attractive significant other? (romance)

    Someone stop me….

  3. This post is so useful for me right now.  I have a new plot ready to work on, but am having difficulty because I currently have no idea which character to use.  Now I know my characters are all linked, and will look forward to doing the exercises. 

  4. Since I recently completed a book where the main character lives in the family mausoleum and tries to get to know all the people in it, I can see the value of this.

  5. I write children’s books – (ages 10-12).  I have never thought about my characters after their death – after all, they are children!  However, I can see the value — if nothing else, it helps you as the author realize just which characters are the most valuable in your story line!  Good exercise!

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