In constructing the plot to a compelling story, the author must explore each character and his relationship to the protagonist. But rather than a simple direct one-to-one model for these relationships, we explore the complexities of triangular relationships.
The most well known is the “love triangle” (see Figure 1) where the protagonist competes for the affections of his lover against a rival. Typically, this consists of two men contending for the affections of one girl, as in the case in Casablanca where Rick (Humphrey Bogart) tries to win back Ilsa (Ingrid Berman) from her husband, Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid).
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 (see Figure 2).
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 (see Figure 3) 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 (see Figure 4) 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 (see Figure 5), 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.