Relationships in Fiction

How do your characters relate to each other?

Why do they act the way they do?

What do they think of the other characters?


by Nam Nguyen

Relationships are important in fiction. Readers are fascinated by how characters communicate to one another, and the best stories show these relationships.

Andrew Burt, the founder of Critters Workshop, has an excellent article on the importance of relationships in fiction, but let’s look at how to show relationships.

First, you need to consider your group of characters. Look at them as a group and draw the relationships between each character to each other character–one by one.  Time consuming, yes, but important.

A simple chart may be good here. (I thought of using a circle chart, but realized that each relationship has at least two facets, so a simple graph is better.)

I will use an example of a fictitious novel in which two boys live with their father and have a mysterious, absent mother. A girl lives with them, sent there by her father, as nobles often did to strengthen ties. The younger boy likes the girl, while the father wants the older boy to wed the girl. The older boy, of course, has other plans.

Let’s pretend this takes place in ancient Japan.  Their names? Absent mother—Kasan, father—Tosan, older brother—Taro, younger brother—Jiro, girl—Aki

What might their relationships be like?

Here is an example of it all graphed out.  (It’s not that well-done, sorry, but this is a demonstration.)  Something like this is simple in excel or the (free) Libre Writer excel substitute.

sample chart

Sample chart showing simple relationships in a fiction story

Two points here:

1.  None of these relationships is simple–there is more than a sentence to them and some will affect others.

2.  Each goes two ways–It isn’t just what Kasan thinks of Tosan, but also what Tosan thinks of Kasan.


Good luck!



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