The relationships that characters have in a novel are as important as the relationships you have with your family, friends, coworkers and peers. You love them, hug them, argue with them, celebrate with them, mourne with them. And yet in a novel, relationships are accentuated in dialogue and through your narrative. Your character relationships are also abbreviated in length and description (by necessity, or your story would be very long indeed!). Conflict, support, codependence and any other types of relationship dynamics in a novel are illustrated almost exclusively through your characters. Keep in mind, as you write and formulate your characters, that all of your characters are individuals who will see things and each other differently. Each has a point of view and observes their world through a different lens. You'll likely focus heavily on the relationship between your protagonist and antagonist--the crucial relationship that gives color and dramatic structure to your story. But a good drill for any author is to create notes about how even your minor or supporting characters interact with one another. Here are my early notes in defining the relationship between the Protagonist (Mark Lyons) and Impact Character (Sandy Evenson) for The Lazarus Covenant.
Relationship is established with Evenson's eyewitness account of the ambush and Lyons' persistence in persuading her to stay in Bosnia.
It is Lyons' persistence that initially impresses her, when her overwhelming urge is to reject him.
Lyons is gradually impressed with her own wartime experiences and her demeanor during crises. She makes it clear to him that she has her own set of baggage she's carrying around and is also wary of the "war goggles syndrome." He discovers she is actually someone he can relate to...but resists a closer relationship...even tries to sabotage it...but ultimately cannot deny it-- due largely to her own persistence.
Their relationship develops primarily through their own completely conflicting styles and approaches...the dynamic vocal exchanges between the two...resulting in them actually being supporters and grudging Admirers of one another.
Although their styles do conflict, they compliment one another in the investigation. Both have large egos that tend to get in the way of their mutual potential...but is overcome after Lyons extracts Moore from Rose's detention.
Need one another, although neither realizes it at first.
Demanding Supporter Vs. Reluctant Witness
Reluctant (Resistant) Lover Vs Willing Lover (and facilitator)
Differing methods, and agendas but are aligned nonetheless with their ends (not means).
Evenson takes Lyons out of his comfort zone so he can change/grow. Realizes that Lyons' mother is an unconventional, yet decisive tool in bringing the two brothers together, neutralizing Celo's threat and helping Lyons grow/resolve his internal conflicts.
She is a believer is horoscopes...tells him of the Triple FireGoat profile...and Lyons XXXXXXXXXXXXXX as the destination.
Stories emanate from a problem that must be resolved. Issues emanate from the story's core problem. The problem an associated issues that the story is set against is called the "Overall Story Throughline." Using the Dramatica Pro construct, the problem can be broadly categorized as Situational, Activity-Based, Attitudinal or Manipulative. If the problem grow out of a situation, then is is Situational. If the problem emanates from a certain activity, then it is Activity-based. If the problem evolves from fixed attitudes and states of mind, it is Attitudinal. And if the story problem result from the characters' manipulations and ways of thinking, then the Overall Story Throughline is Manipulative. As a suspense thriller, The Lazarus Covenantis Activity-Based. I defined the Overall Story as "Stopping Celo's ostensible attack on the international community." My challenge in determining the Overall Story Throughline was defining how the Overall Story was Activity Based. Here are my early notes in devising the Overall Story Throughline (the details of which changed pretty dramatically when I began writing).
Evenson attempts to escape from Bosnia after witnessing Celo's ambush; Lyons quickly understands that his cousin Celo may have had a role in the ambush; a child's unique illness reveals the existence of chemical agents that have been weaponized (interpreted initially as Celo's intent and leads to the pursuit of Celo by both Lyons and EUFOR; US administration and EUFOR focus their effort on stopping what they see as a certain attack by Celo on their own forces; Lyons sees the futility of personalizing the crisis and pursues a more holistic solution aimed at producing minimal casualties. Celo does not agree with Lyons-- believes that the war demonstrated the need to defend yourself with like means, and to escalate the stakes when required.
"Again the Ghost sped on, above the black and heaving sea--on, on--until, being far away, as he told Scrooge, from any shore, they lighted on a ship. They stood beside the helmsman at the wheel, the look-out in the bow, the officers who had the watch; dark, ghostly figures in their several stations; but every man among them hummed a Christmas tune, or had a Christmas thought, or spoke below his breath to his companion of some bygone Christmas Day, with homeward hopes belonging to it. And every man on board, waking or sleeping, good or bad, had had a kinder word for another on that day than on any day in the year; and had shared to some extent in its festivities; and had remembered those he cared for at a distance, and had known that they delighted to remember him."
What types of characters do you need to populate your story? Characters populate and give life to your novel--all perform different dramatic functions within separate archetypes. As a rule of thumb, plan on about 8 characters...each to fill one of the eight archetypical roles. At the beginning thing about your character's names, roles and genders--they all matter because they will affect how your reader perceives them and how you will treat them as you begin to write and integrate them into your story. Here are the notes I made for one of the supporting characters in my novel, The Lazarus Covenant. They're rough, quickly created and all over the map...but in my case, I found them to be very helpful nonetheless!
Bosnian Serb former Banja Luka Opstina Police Chief. (Mark Lyons' brother).
Something atypical about his face. Bold eye. Slightly sardonic mouth/expression. Prominent jaw.
At ease among men. A leader who commanded a Serb Special Police Brigade during the Bosnian War and rose to national prominence. Helped set up the Concentration Camp in Omarska.
Steadfast, Savage, In Control, Completely self-assured
Dwells on the past and seeks revenge. Sees several cousins/uncles killed during the Brinisi Dam executions….
Sadistic Personality: High self-esteem, Ambitious, Inspiring Achiever, Overly Competitive, Compulsion to Avoid Failure and Rejection. Believes that personal worth is defined by achievements. Natural leader, Champion of Causes, Strong, Assertive, Must-Do Attitude, Intimidating, Must get his way, "Having it out with others", Fear of being dominated and avoidance of weakness. Favors radical change by him. Independent and inflexible. Hard-hearted (from revenge).
Anal Retentive: orderly, persevering, compulsively clean, and reluctant to give things away.
Anxious, conscientious, and dependent on authorities (Parents). Neglected as an infant. Hard-hearted. Nervousness.
Cello is a man of action: His reputation as an effective warrior and leader earns him a command against the Serbs in the Balkan War and subsequently earns him the position as Minister of the Interior...a front-runner of a Bosnian Muslim State (as he sees it)
The youngest Brigade commander during the war in Bosnia.
A PIFWC on the "Black List"
Has many mistresses.
Shot in the heart, and survived.
Spent 7 years in a German prison for murder-- escaped with the help of his "soldiers"
The quest for knowledge and the development of his deeper understanding is vital to his emotional fulfillment. Education, whether self-directed or through more formal channels, can be a key to stimulating his desire for information and wisdom.
1984-86: Belgrade intellectuals were arrested for counter revolutionary activity. Cello retaliated, and built a reputation for himself, ultimately becoming the Serb Police Chief in the Opstina.
War Criminal (Nasir Oric/Cello type)
Schizoid Personality: Artistic, sensitive, in touch with feelings, true to self. May become moody, easily hurt, and socially or emotionally withdrawn, feeling emotionally overloaded and different from others. Striving to avoid being ordinary or defective, wants to be special and unique, sometimes feels deeply but more often "on stage." Intelligent, logical, loves being alone and learning, original thinker. May become absorbed in abstract trivia, proving his own theory, counterattacking criticism. Attempting to avoid being empty-empty of knowledge and understanding of the world, empty of answers when asked a difficult question, and empty of opportunities to learn more. Absorbing knowledge is his addiction, not using knowledge. Strong, assertive, "can-do" attitude, loves challenges, natural leader, and champion of causes. May become a risk taking entrepreneur or a righter of wrongs, intimidating or "having it out" with others and feeling he must get his way. The driving force underlying his personality is fear of being dominated or the avoidance of weakness. Favors radical change by himself. Phallic Character: strident, proud, dominant and arrogant. Self-centered, macho Don Juan obsessed with proving his sexual attractiveness
Determined and pragmatic, he is a dynamic personality with a straightforward style. Independent and success-oriented, he needs change and adventure to keep his interest and to stop him from becoing restless or impatient. Confident, he usually works best when he thinks optimistically about large projects. These can motivate him to action, and once focused ona goal he will work hard to achieve his grand plans.
Possesses a fast mind, quick responses, and an ability to evaluate situations rapidly. Good concentration and common sense suggest that he can be thorough and capable of deep thought. With his high standards and competent approach to work, he can become too demanding of himself or others.
Naturally business minded, he is good a commerciallizing his abilities and seeing opportunities when they arise. Ambitious, he aims high and enjoys power and influence. With an ability to project positive enthusiasm or excite other people, he makes a good organizer and natural leader.
His generosity and assurance attract others and increase his general good fortune. sometimes emotional moods may cause him to suffer from nervous tension, so it is necessary to lead a well-balanced lilfe and stay healthy. Dreams and ideals reflect his emotional sensitivity and a strong inner life. At the age of 38, there is a turning point as he is forced to take the initiative and be brave and direct in his relationships with others.
Enthusiastic and adventurous, with an intense personality that lies beneath what is ostensibly an easy-going one-- his eyes reflect the capability for cold calculation. Dynamic and bright. Highly intuitive and aware. He combines his cerebral power with his premonitions and trusts his feelings. Dynamic mental energy, enthusiasm, and ability to think on a large scale. High strung. Has an inclination to take charge. Versatile. His own doubts and paranoia may undermine his sense of purpose and confuse him as to what his objectives truly are.
Firing at Tito's Executioners at Brnisi Dam; Ambush of US delegation seeking to annex Muslim territory for the benefit of the Serbs in an arbitration decision; Intercepting Muslim's use of WMD (too late), Pursuit of Lyons and Evenson;
Engaged in building a solid foundation for himself. unofficial leader of the RS, but is apolitical and motivated to a large extent, by money. He has an extensive organized crime network that is under the cover of a large construction company that is involved in legal contracts. His intelligence network is as extensive as that of SFOR; however, because he understands the environment, it is far more effective.
Revenge for what happened to him, to avenge his father's death; money; power; recognition and attention (Lyons: "He wants to be the bride at every wedding and the corpse at every funeral.")
"I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. Already they have raised up a monied aristocracy that has set the government at defiance. The issuing power (of money) should be taken away from the banks and restored to the people to whom it properly belongs."
Devising the themes for a novel are one of the first, best steps an author can take to provide depth to a story. Themes are seldom linear in the way they are integrated, nor are they objective. Themes flow from the human condition and are conveyed as either a premise or through exploration. Themes run the gamut of emotions, issues and arguments that we see in our everyday lives or on exceptional occasions. No matter what the theme, it's the author's job to identify the novel's themes and to fully develop them. Here are my own (rough) notes that I used in identifying the themes for my novel,The Lazarus Covenant.
1. Emerging danger of terrorist use of Weapons of Mass Destruction.
2. Clash of Civilizations.
3. How environment shapes individual perceptions.
5. Blood Vengeance.
6. Linkages: Time, Space, Family, History
7. Family Ties that bind
8. Recovery from Trauma
9. Need: Both P1 and A1 need each other, although they don't realize it. P2 shows them both. P2 finally does leave at P1's urging (ostensibly). Comes back with their mother. At the dam.
10. Enduring Love: Family
11. Cognitive baggage and the way it affects an individual's outlooks/perceptions.
12. A complex morality tale anchored in uncomfortable fact.
Writing a plot point synopsis of your book is not something all authors subscribe to, but if you are writing a story with a plot that is more intricate than not, I'd recommend doing one at the very outset. Using all of the work you've accomplished so far--setting out the story goal, consequences, forewarnings, outcomes and judgements--you have everything you need to begin preliminary work on illustrating your story in an organized, mapped out way. A plot point synopsis connects the dots of the story details together to create a coherent, compelling plot. It provides absolute direction to your story and progresses chapter by chapter from prologue to epilogue. Do it in simple, easy-to-understand language, and do it quickly--it's not a final draft, but a guiderail for you to use as you write your novel. Here are my notes that I drafted for a plot point synopsis for The Lazarus Covenant. I've only included three chapters of notes to convey what it might look like...some plot spoilers are censored!
28 June 1976, Bosnia-Herzegovina: Executions of Bosnian Muslim Dissidents from Srebrenica at Brinisi Dam by Tito's Special Police. The Chief Executioner stands out. Marko (12) and Celo (15) (Both Bosnian Muslims from Sapna) witness the executions. Antagonist is deeply disturbed...they both run across and are surprised by a survivor of the executions who is in hiding. They are detected by one of the executioners who pursue them. Antagonist saves Protagonist by shooting their pursuer with his own gun. They run, narrowly escape and Lyons is sent out of the country with his mother. Celo stays with their father because they will be looking for two boys. The last time they see one another is atop some ancient Roman ruins.
CHAPTER 1: January
Evenson witnesses wholesale executions/ambush of U.S. negotiating team, which includes U.S. Special Envoy and the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State. She takes photos of the ambush in which the entire US team is killed and one of the terrorists is killed. A Muslim Paramilitary Unit is identified as conducting the ambush. It is covered up at the urging of the DCI, National Security Advisor and by the direction of the U.S. President-- for fear that full exposure would pull the U.S. into another Balkan War. The facts are manipulated and skewed to fit the circumstances as a mine accident. Evenson sees Cello and manages to escape. In her rush, she drops her notebook that is found by an investigator. Lyons arrives on the scene as the EUFOR Commander, and is handed the notebook and a 35mm Camera with no film loaded in it. Evenson's ICTY card is taped to the front cover of the notebook. Lyons asks if there was anything else found, and he is told the Serb Police found the bag the notebook fell out of. Lyons: "You never found this...." Celo knows he's been ID'd and pursues Evenson. Lyons knows that Evenson is in danger, even though he's never met her. Through his trained eye, Lyons knows what happened here-- it was anything but an accident....
Evenson is attempting to fly out of Sarajevo via military transport...is given a hard time because she doesn't have her papers. P2's departure to The Hague. P1 manages to intercept P2 just as she boards the airplane (via helicopter). P2 is very upset. P1 convinces her that her presence is required if the truth is ever to be discovered and justice is to be served. She reluctantly agrees after her shock upon discovering he knows what transpired was a deliberate ambush...not an accident. "How do I know I can trust you?" she asks. Because I am Irish, he tells her. To her surprise she sees that he also speaks fluent Serbo-Croatian. P2 reveals to P1 that she photographed the incident and has the film. When asked whom she's told…she says only her boss. Very soon they realize that a reporter and the CIA are pursuing her...and he. The President is briefed using TS satellite footage and from that coverage he is also briefed that a UN employee probably witnessed the ambush (from the UN car parked nearby). He is concerned the story may reach the press and directs that she be intercepted (for her own protection).
As an author, you must pass judgment. Those who say they don't may sound altruistic enough, but the truth is, they're not effectively conveying a meaningful plot or story. Establishing judgment in this context requires that you ask a simple question that relates directly to the Story Outcome: Has your protagonist resolved his issues or not? In other words, has he changed? Whether or not your main character has achieved the Story Goal you set out for him, and regardless of his success or failure, this judgment is crucial in guiding the story to its compelling conclusion.
While the question may be simple, the answer seldom is, because the Story Judgment is a very personal call for any author to make. In The Lazarus Covenant, the main character (or protagonist) is Mark Lyons. He's had a difficult road throughout his life. He's experienced unprecedented tragedy, been separated from his family, seen life through the starkest lens imaginable, and he blames himself for it all. As a result, he's closed himself off to intensely personal relationships because they just don't work out. He's had tremendous successes along the way, and he's a recognized counterterror and criminal expert. But he lives and operates at extremes and fringes--mainstream society is not only foreign to him, it's an anethema. He wonders whether he attracts adversity and violence because it seems to seek him out. Are his perspectives hardwired into him...can he ever have a life that isn't defined by death, violence and broken relationships? He discounts the possibility because he doesn't know where to begin. What he doesn't count on, though, are the people he meets from the very first chapter in The Lazarus Covenant.