Stories are all about the characters’ relationships. Whether they face big or small events, their relationships drive the action, conflict, and crises in their lives. While some characters aid the protagonist toward his goals, the antagonist and his allies are in dangerous opposition.
In constructing the plot into a compelling story, the author must explore each character and his relationship with the protagonist. But rather than a simple direct one-to-one model for these relationships, we explore the complexities of triangular relationships.
This “love triangle” is where the protagonist competes for the affection of his lover against a rival. Typically, this consists of two men contending for the affections of one girl, as in the casCasablancaan where Rick (Humphrey Bogart) tries to win back Ilsa (IngriBerman), from her husband, Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid).
However, there are notable variations to this theme, such as in Star Wars, where Luke and Hans Solo appear to be rivals for Princess Leia, but in the sequel, we find out Luke is her brother. Likewise, in Harry Potter, we find Harry and Ron teaming with Hermione until we learn Harry has other interests.
A classic example is Romeo and Juliet. Here, Romeo seeks Juliet’s affection despite Juliet’s mother’s controlling love, who believes Juliet to be too young and Romeo unsuitable.
However, each of these stories is constructed with much more than just a Love triangle relationship. Each also contains a Hate triangle relationship.
In Casablanca, consider Major Strasser ---- Rick ---- German Command
In Star Wars, consider Vader ---- Luke ---- Emperor
In Harry Potter, consider Malfoy ---- Harry ----Voldemort
In Romeo and Juliet, consider Tybalt ----- Romeo ---- Prince.
In addition, every story must have mediating relationships that precipitate critical events and crises. These mediators are placed in appropriate positions to set off the fireworks that bring about the conflicts and eventual climax. Each mediator has a sub-triangle connecting them to the protagonist and one other essential relationship.
Renault – arrests and then frees Rick
Ferrari – assists escape plans
Carl – assists Ilsa and Victor in contacting underground
Sam – connects lovers
In Star Wars
The Empire’s Admiral attacks the Rebels
Rebels fight against empire
Droids assist Luke and Leia on their missions
In Harry Potter
Draco Malfoy threatens and obstructs Harry
Snapes menaces Harry
Dumbledore helps Harry solve problems
Hagrid gives council
In Romeo and Juliet,
Nurse helps set path to suicide
Priest helps set path to fake suicide then lets it happen
Mercutio death precipitates crisis
Benvolio encourages Romeo
Finally, putting all this together we find a square composed of eight individual triangles that fit together into a square building block of interrelated characters all of which must work together to create a story.
In the Casablanca Model for example, consider the two small triangles of Rick-Sam-Ilsa and Rick-Sam-Victor that bring together the larger Love triangle of Rick-Ilsa-Victor. Recall that Sam has a pivotal role on the piano playing “As Time Goes By.” And realize the complicated mix of emotions in the small triangle of Rick dealing between Victor and the Freedom Fighters. Rick has sentiments for both, yet he is pulled in a conflicting direction by the basic Love triangle. It’s the author’s job to give weight to each emotion these triangles provoke.
It’s tricky exploring these triangles. We find that each character faces conflicting complex choices. Each triangle reveals more layers of involvement. Not every character’s nature remains fixed throughout. Consider French Police Chief Renault who in the end joins Rick and switches sides from Vichy to Freedom Fighter.