6 Exercises for Stronger Character Relationships

Yelizaveta P. Renfro

As writers, we can spend so much time “fleshing out” our characters as individuals that we forget about the connections between them. That’s why I love this piece by Yelizaveta P. Renfro that offers six concrete ways to think about your characters’ relationships. Here’s an example of one of the exercises:

Bury your characters. Imagine that your fictional family has purchased a cemetery plot that will hold twelve: two rows of six, one above the other. Draw out the plot and think about who will be buried where. Who is already buried there? For whom are the other spaces reserved? Who will be next to whom? Who gets the space under the oak? Who will not be buried in the family plot? Why? Think about the family politics underlying these choices. What kinds of monuments will the family choose to mark the individual graves? Imagine a scene taking place at the cemetery. Who is visiting the plot? Why? What happens?

If you like this prompt, you’re sure to enjoy the others. Click here to read Creating the Fictional Family: No Character Is an Island, featured in the latest Glimmer Train bulletin.

Posted in Writing Advice and tagged , , , .

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

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Looks very handy steps. I like idea you have given about relationship. Appreciative work Jane Friedman. Thanks.

Justin Douglas

How does that help stronger character relationships?


Justin, I would see it only as a tool that brings a known template (the politics of burial in the family plot) to the writing process. For example, bury the protagonist in the top row, nearest as you can to the center. Decide where his wife is going to be buried. Beneath him in the second row? Nope, she’s decidedly not “inferior” to her husband. You can just hear her wonder out loud why he wasn’t buried at the end, where he belonged. I’ve just described the relationship between protagonist and wife. Next, I’ll wonder with words where his mistress should be… Read more »

Annmarie Banks
Annmarie Banks

Yeah…I plan to be cremated and tossed somewhere, so for me there is no meaning at all to burial plots. None.  It is a hard concept for me to use as an excercise.

Donan Berg

Mind intriguing. Leads to more emotional thoughts. Who came to family Christmas. Who didn’t. Why? Physical illness, emotional trauma, or plain bullheadedness? What if father never laughed? Mother never left the kitchen. Or, an only child versus a swarming house of foster kids. Thanks for the springboard.


And who dances on whose grave with glee?


And where’s the family pet? Not in the *gulp* Pet Cemetery?! (genre: horror)

Also: who doesn’t stay put in the grave but chooses instead to haunt the living? (horror, I guess)

And, who gets the stake pulled out of their chest and looks good as new after a nice drinky-poo of fresh blood? (supernatural)

And which freak disturbs the grave to nab the elder wand (now, we’re talking!)

And who, visiting the grave a couple of years later, cute-meets an attractive significant other? (romance)

Someone stop me….

Gwen Olsen
Gwen Olsen

This post is so useful for me right now.  I have a new plot ready to work on, but am having difficulty because I currently have no idea which character to use.  Now I know my characters are all linked, and will look forward to doing the exercises. 


Since I recently completed a book where the main character lives in the family mausoleum and tries to get to know all the people in it, I can see the value of this.

Michelle Lim

This is a fantastic way to think out of the box about your characters. I love it!

Sunny Monnig
Sunny Monnig

I write children’s books – (ages 10-12).  I have never thought about my characters after their death – after all, they are children!  However, I can see the value — if nothing else, it helps you as the author realize just which characters are the most valuable in your story line!  Good exercise!


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