Conflict AND Connection

Here’s what I worked on this afternoon.


Okay, well, I filled it in, too.

Earlier this week, Jenn Hubbard blogged here about reading actor Jeff Griggs’ book Guru. You should read Jenn’s post to see all she got out of the book, but the thing that stuck with me was her realization that our characters need to work together at times, not always be in conflict. 

I started thinking about this as supporting each other, or at least having a connection. And I started asking myself what connection and conflict each of my main characters have with each other.

Enter the chart.

The biggest struggle was, honestly, creating the chart. I am chart-o-phobic. Flow charts are totally beyond me, and even this “simple” one that you see here got me all confused as I started entering info. Had to back out, look at it again, slap myself in the forehead a few times, and restart.

I don’t know if you can read this very well, but the main characters’ names repeat across the top and down the left. Basically, the rows show conflict and the columns show connection. I think. Or maybe a better description is that all the cells UNDER the shaded stairway show connection, while the cells ABOVE the shading show conflict.

To give you a clear (?) example, Nate (formerly known as Love Interest #1) and Gideon (formerly known as Love Interest #2) have the last two rows and last two columns. If you follow Nate’s row all the way across to where he meets Gideon above the shading, you can probably guess their conflict I typed in there—they both want Caro. On the other hand, if you follow Nate’s column all the way down to meet Gideon below the shading, well…you tell me what their connection is. I’m being generous (and wimpy) at this point and saying that they actually do both want Caro to be happy.

I’m not sure where this’ll take me, and I’m pretty sure (I see you nodding) that the info in the cells will change many times during the writing of this story. But for now it’s a reminder that the dynamics of a story work at many levels and that characters, like us, have complicated motives for their actions.

Some of which they’ll actually share with their authors.


20 thoughts on “Conflict AND Connection

  1. Nice chart. I especially like the way you incorporate the line into it. Helps to have the visual.

    I can see where that would lead to more complex characters. Characters can’t just be bad or good so thinking about ways that they connect with others leads to more depth.

    Job well done.


    • beckylevine says:

      Yeah, making the bolder lines & the shading helped me understand it. I am SO not visual. But once I realized where conflict/connection were falling, I could make it work.


    • beckylevine says:

      That’s what I’m hoping, Linda.

      Hey, was just looking at kids’ book, about tenements, that tells stories of four real people. One named Leonard Covello, an immigrant from Italy who came to NY in 1896. Common name, or one of your ancestors? 🙂


  2. I did this same thing on one of my books and was really pleased with how much it made me actually think about conflicts and conflicting motivations of characters.
    But your chart is way prettier than mine!


    • beckylevine says:

      I’m so bad with charts that if I don’t actually get it looking right, I can’t work with it. And, yes, I love the conflicted motivations that come out–when a character wants two things (or more!).


    • beckylevine says:

      LK, it’s not as complicated as it looks–basically I filled in with short, one or two word notes for each.

      I’d love to see your two-column plotting chart. Maybe you should put it up on YOUR blog. 🙂


  3. Jenn Hubbard says:

    Wow, yes. There was a point when I was working on The Secret Year when I realized the main character’s “nemesis”–his main competitor–was also the only other person in the world who would experience the same grief over the girl who dies (not a spoiler; she dies on page 1). So even these characters who were complete opposites in many ways were connected too!


    • beckylevine says:

      Jenn–that’s exactly right. The chart also helped me see where I don’t have character relationships at all thought out–I don’t know at all where the grandmother and two grandsons conflict OR connect. I took guesses for now, but know I’ll need to figure out more as I go.

      Thanks for the start!


  4. What a terrific organizational tool! I wish I could see it better (but my eyes are bad and I can’t see the words on the chart). I can’t write that way, not when doing a first draft, but I could see using something like this during revisions.


    • beckylevine says:

      Stella, it’s just the names of each character across the top and the same ones down the side. Yeah, I think it would help during revision. I know it’ll change!


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