One of the biggest challenges for a writer is creating the relationships between characters. Depending on your story, your players may be polar opposites, more inclined to beat the snot out of each other than collaborate or agree on anything. Or there could be that ever present tension that you just know is going to come to a head at some point. And when it does, there could be fireworks of the romantic persuasion. Or fisticuffs. You never can tell.
Over the years I’ve honed the habit of observation. Watching how people interact, how they handle difficult situations can be very telling. Do they downplay it with humor? Do they assume that because they are having a good day or a bad one, that everyone else will be in the same mode? Do they get angry, stomp their feet, throw things or walk away sulking?
It can all add up to interesting characters. I want mine to have flaws, just like real people. No one is perfect. We may all do some things well. But no one is a master of everything. That’s unrealistic. Showing how these characters interact, how they play off each other’s strengths and weaknesses, takes a lot of patience. And those same traits can significantly impact how they get along with others in their relationships. It’s always a challenge. But one I look forward to.
Here’s an example of a relationship from “Why 319?” In this scene, Jefferson Chene, who narrates the story, is surprised by a change of tactics from Captain Pappy Cantrell as to how the investigation into the three homicides should be handled.
Cantrell tucked the cigarette into the corner of his mouth and snapped a flame with his lighter.
I waited until everyone else filed out of the room. Cantrell let his eyes close as if he were meditating. With the smoke curling up around his head, he looked like something out of a Tennessee monastery. The Art of Zen, courtesy of Jack Daniels.
“Well?” he muttered without opening his eyes.
“When were you going to clue me in on this plan, Pappy?”
“Y’all weren’t ready.”
I didn’t try to keep the anger from my voice. “Bullshit. I’ve been the lead on ninety percent of the investigations we’ve handled for the last three years. You know it. I know it. The whole freaking squad knows it.”
He took a long drag and pulled the cigarette from his lips. “But not everybody likes it.
I didn’t even have to think about it. “You mean Barksdale. The guy’s a dinosaur.”
“Would that be a triceratops?”
I was surprised he was able to name one, but then, Cantrell could be full of surprises. Like this new plan. “So how do you see this?”
“We split into three teams, just like Ah said. We put Koz with the new girl, Laura. Give them the oldest case, the Wayne County. You and Megan take the Macomb one. Bloomfield will want their girlie working their crime. We stick her with Barksdale.”
“So why didn’t you tell me before?”
“You all right, Chene, but you ain’t no actor. Ah wanted everyone to know this was a surprise, even you. It made your reaction real. You gettin’ pissy ’cause Ah didn’t tell you about it first.”
I considered it for a moment. The old bastard had it down cold. Barksdale would have pitched a holy fit if I’d made the decision to split the team by case and assign him the outsider. He and Megan could barely stand each other. Laura was too new to stick with him. That left the Bloomfield detective. Since the orders were coming down from Cantrell, there was no way he’d argue it. Especially when it appeared that Cantrell did not trust me to make the call. It was a stroke of genius, pure logistical genius. I told him as much.
“’Tweren’t nothin. You might have figured it out in a couple of days.”
“Don’t be so modest, Pappy. You know how to manipulate him.”
It took me a moment to admit the rest. “And me too.”
He nodded slowly. “Hell, Chene, if Ah can’t ever manipulate ya, y’all ain’t no good to me.”
Here's a shot of what Pappy Cantrell might look like.
Of course, there's gotta be a little music. Here's an old favorite from Aretha.