What I can tell you is that they’ve been friends since middle school, and they’re seniors now. Kennedy broke some kid’s nose -possibly Adam’s- for harassing Hatch, and they’ve had the other’s back ever since. Hatch refuses to talk about his family, or why he spend so many nights at the Hammond household. Kennedy and her mom don’t really bother to ask. Instead, they buy a futon so that he doesn’t have to sleep on the couch after a few months of regular visits. For me, there’s a lot of temptation to push this into a romantic relationship, but I also think that this would be a distraction from what they are both about to go through, which I won’t spoil here.
Relationships are a source of emotion in a story. They help to created realistic, vivid characters that readers will invest their feelings in. They are often the driving force for your plot. That’s why figuring out how Kennedy and Hatch fit is important to me: because they are part of what makes my story work.
Considering how important this is to me, I thought I’d share a few tactics when I’m trying to create and understand character relationships.
Five Ways To Make Your Characters Relationships More Realistic
1.Take a Look in the Mirror
Looking at your own relationships can help a great deal when trying to understand the dynamics between your characters. Think about every time you used the word “complicated” to describe how you felt about someone else, whether it was out loud or in your head. Maybe there’s a really close friend that you’ve secretly been jealous of for years, or one who you’ve watched turn into a better or worse person over time. What does these relationships have in common with your characters’? What aspects make each one unique? Are there any relationships in your story that you didn’t realize were so similar to your own?
2. Dust off the Time Machine
There are threads that connect nearly every aspect of any relationship to past events. Try thinking about first impressions, then look at events that may have impacted that initial image. Why do your characters your character’s trust or mistrust each other? How has each person changed in the eyes of the other? Even if you don’t share all of these details with the reader, knowing them can provide you with a way to create more subtext in your stories, or to intrigue your readers.
3. Examine the unspoken
The things we avoid talking about are often more important than what comes out of our mouths. When your characters are keeping secrets, it can really up the stakes. Even if it doesn’t happen in your plot, knowing what would happen to a relationship if those secrets came out can give you a clearer understanding of just how close your characters actually are. Shared secrets can cause even more drama.
Three can keep a secret, if two of them are dead
-Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard’s Almanack
4. Analyze the Costs
Nobody puts work into a relationship expecting to get nothing out. Make your characters need things (attention, money, advice) and then make them give something up (independence, secrecy, time) in order to get them. Knowing why your characters stick together can help you know what buttons to push to create tension in their relationship. Does one of your characters have unrealistic expectations of the other? Or is someone just not willing to put in the work, but still expects all the benefits? This cost and benefit model can also be one tool you can us to make sure you don’t end up glorifying unhealthy relationships, like one very famous book series did.
5. Let go of the Reins
You’ve done all the legwork, analyzed every possible facet and written all of the background information, but your characters are still not cooperating- now what?
Take a breath, and let them do their thing. It’ll be okay, I promise. You don’t have to rip the whole thing up and start all over again. Let your characters evolve as your understanding of the story changes. I’ve had a story where my MC decided that she was more intrigued by the brother of the love interest I’d chosen for her, and it gave me a great idea for taking my story even further. This kind of flexibility allows you to keep your relationships from feeling forced or one-dimensional, and keeps you on your writing toes.
These five tips will hopefully help you create more dynamic relationships in your writing. Even better, they could help you to understand some of your real-life relationships. If either of these possibilities has sparked your interest, I recommend taking a peek into the world of psychology and communication studies. For college students, there are some really interesting elective options in these areas, but the web and your local library or bookstore are both great –and cheaper- options.
What have you learn from some of your favorite fictional relationships? What types of relationships do you struggle to write? As always, I’d love to hear your responses and recommendations, so be sure to leave a comment in the box below! You can also always e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or tweet at me with @SpunFromInk!
I hope everyone has a beautiful and bountiful New Year!