Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Character Relationships 3 - Bids and requests

Greetings, disclosures, and promises are all big deals in relationships in our stories (and in our lives). A romance is likely to include a “meet cute,” heartfelt revelations, and a commitment (such as an engagement or a wedding). Classic westerns have the stranger come into town, his purpose (often settling a score) becomes clear over time, and people line up as allies and opponents before the big climax.

Farewells, too, may pay important roles in novels and scripts — especially when key characters die or otherwise separate (apparently) forever.

So, greetings, disclosures, promises, and farewells are social interactions that test and try relationships. In most instances, these involve bids and requests. These are manifest as gestures, words, and gifts or material exchanges.

Gestures: A nod of the head, recognizing someone is present. The threat of a shaken fist.
Words: May I have this dance? I’ll make you a deal you can’t refuse.
Gifts: A summons. An engagement ring.
Material exchanges: Money for cigarettes. Sex for political favors.

What all those making bids and requests expect is a response. The problem (and opportunity) for the writer is that all of these — even words — can be missed, misunderstood, or ambiguous.  Each of these can garner responses that send a story in an unexpected direction because of how a bid or request is received and interpreted.

That can be delightful. Quirky responses surprise the other characters and provide fun. Misunderstandings can lead to farce or tragedy. And we care about these, when executed well, because our personal relationships are vital to us. And we have all been surprised, disappointed, charmed, and misunderstood in real life. 

They all represent moments of change. In stories, you, as a writer, need to make them meaningful and clear in terms of who these people are to each other, how the conditions of the relationships change, and how the stakes have been raised or lowered.

Judas points out Jesus.
Mozart laughs.
Obi-Wan gives Luke his father’s light saber.

Relationships change. Stories take new directions. Outsiders become insiders and comrades die.  If you think of a favorite scene in a treasured story, it’s probably about a radical alteration in a relationship, created with two dramatic elements: A bid or request from one character and a response from another.

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