Group Dynamics: The Character/Relationship Connection

One of the most difficult elements of group dynamics is looking at the connections between characters and other characters’ relationships. After all, it’s not connecting to a tangible thing like another character, it’s doesn’t have the same consistency on the other side of the link as tracking a character’s relationship with the idea of the group as a whole, and figuring out how one character affects a dynamic between two others requires understanding the dynamic in the first place. But since it’s so difficult, it’s not as often done in detail, so being able to do so can make a group dynamic sing.

So what do you do after you’ve chosen yourself a single character and a pair of characters whose connection she’s going to affect?

First, look at the pair. How are they connected? What set this connection off? What maintains it? One thing you might consider is scribbling down five to ten words that in some way relate to the connection between the two.

Now look at the single character, and see if any of these things relate, or might cause one of the characters in the pair to act differently when the single character’s around. The most obvious example of this is if the pair has a romantic relationship and the other character has some sort of romantic entanglement in the past (or hopes for some sort of romantic entanglement in the future) with one of them, but that’s nowhere near the only possibility. Perhaps they have a secret that the single character tends to get too close to, either by accident or design. Or maybe they tend towards bickering, but there’s some reason why they prefer not to (or just can’t get away with) do that in front of the single character. The influence might be positive, might be negative, might be mismatched between the pair, might be neutral but noticeable; what matters is that there’s an impact.

Next, see how aware each of the characters is of this impact. The single character is the likeliest to be oblivious to her impact, simply because she really can’t compare the pair when she’s around to the pair when she’s not around, but that doesn’t mean that we can just assume she knows nothing. A socially perceptive character will still be able to read between the lines, and can probably make some guesses (whether they’re all accurate is another matter entirely). The members of the pair, meanwhile, are likelier, but not guaranteed, to have some idea that something’s different, even if they can’t always put their finger on what. Any character who’s noticed probably has an opinion on the subject; what is it?

For an added layer of complexity, do any of the characters act on what they know about this impact? Some might make a point of avoiding someone who complicates their existing connections; some might actually seek them out in order to take advantage of their effect. Similarly, if the single character is aware of her effect on the pair, she might try to behave in a way that minimizes that impact or that exacerbates it, might avoid them or seek them out, might point out the effect and see what happens—there’s a lot of room to play with.

If you’re feeling really ambitious, you can keep going for a couple loops of this, but I find that’s the kind of thing that works more cleanly when it’s happening onstage. Besides, if you spend too long on one of these, when are you going to find time to move on to the next one?

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