Exercise: A Portrait of a Social Dynamic

I’m not going to even consider quoting Tolstoy on this one. Happy families are not all alike, save to the kind of person who sees happiness and assumes it a default state, an absence of any effort to reach that point or of crisis to tear it away. Social dynamics, similarly, are never exactly alike—it doesn’t matter if they’re comfortable or strained, healthy or downright dysfunctional. If you have any two or more people doing what is most comfortable, most characteristic, or just most in their nature to do together, it’ll look different from any other group—in fact, just adding or subtracting one of them will probably be enough to change what it looks like.

For this exercise, then, choose two or more characters. While they don’t have to be friends—fighting or engaging in strenuous political chess are perfectly valid shared activities—it does help if they have a pre-existing social dynamic; if nothing else, it makes it easier to figure out what they might be doing. Got them? All right. Now envision, and write, a characteristic picture of time this set of people spends together. Some things you might want to think about are:

  • What are they doing?
  • Where are they? Is this someone’s home in particular? Somewhere public?
  • How are they arranged in the space that they occupy? Consider things like distance from each other and orientation relative to each other, but also things like how they interact with their furniture. Even how they sit and what they sit on can be interesting.
  • What did that space look like to begin with?
  • What are their attitudes towards each other?
  • If you’ve got three or more people, how are the basic dynamics between each pair affected by the presence of others?
  • Are they talking? If so, is it about what they’re doing, tangentially related, or something else entirely? What sort of tone are they taking towards each other?

There’s a lot else you can add, but those should be enough to get you started. Getting a good picture can be an excellent way to differentiate between sets of people whose connections seem otherwise alike—or to differentiate multiple social dynamics with one person in common.


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