I enjoy Burn Notice for a variety of reasons.

First and foremost, I like spies. James Bond is pretty cool, but the James Bond films have to sacrifice a lot to fit within a two-hour time slot. As a television series, Burn Notice builds a fantastic Myth Arc over multiple seasons.

Spy stories often have an enormous scope while much of the action happens on a personal level — individuals wield enormous social, economic, and political powers. The fates of millions come to rest in the hands of a few.

A greedy villain loses everything in a high-stakes gamble.

It’s almost fantastic how much hinges on the flaws and vices of characters who sit atop veritable mountains of responsibility. And many spy stories come down to interpersonal relationships and the manipulation and exploitation thereof.

Characters and relationships. They’re the stuff of myths and legends.

A Season Five episode of Burn Notice — I forget which — helped underscore how a relationship, even a friendly one, can turn anyone into an antagonist. Michael Westen often faces greater challenges from his friends than his enemies.

One piece of advice I often reiterate at the game table — and which all too often falls on deaf ears — is that a good enemy is just as useful as a good friend, sometimes more useful. Any character relationship can be leveraged.

But relationships are often underutilized in RPGs. Which is a shame considering how important relationships tend to be to us, as people.

I don’t imagine many people spend a lot of time reflecting on who we have relationships with, how those relationships challenge us — and perhaps more important than any of that — what the other end of the relationship is like.

To begin the discussion, I want to introduce a storytelling concept I call:
“Everyone knows everybody.”

I owe the concept to both James Bond and Michael Westen, two spies who helped me realize the story moves along faster and more easily when no one requires an introduction and everyone knows each other.

Spy stories often involve introductions as special types of scenes — where it’s largely assumed that the characters are already familiar with everyone other character they’ve known up to this point in the story.

It’s a good, and subtle example of Viewers Are Geniuses.

Rather than introducing every. Single. Character. To the audience, relationships are explained contextually rather than capitalized, underlined, bolded, italicized, and followed by a series of exclamation marks.

The point then of an introduction, is that nobody knows the new character. The subversion or twist of this element, is when someone in the cast does have a prior relationship with the new character.

Like somebody’s sister. Or dad. Or former lover.

You only use this subversion — or twist — occasionally however, in order to establish a scene of “getting to know you,” or Teeth-Clenching Teamwork.

For the most part, you want to introduce a new character not to serve as an object of a relationship, but primarily as a vehicle for a plot.

That might sound callous but following the principle that “Everyone knows everybody,” relationships already exist (quantum relationships?), and the only reason you’d want to introduce a new character is to advance the plot.

This creates the basis for a simple formula:
– Everyone knows everybody; the story moves along faster and easier.
– An introduction is therefore a special scene to advance the plot;
a. Introduce a new character only to advance the plot.
b. Unless you subvert this with an existing relationship.

I’ll discuss Mistaken Identity in the future.