Relationships are the key to drama. Characters can’t exist in a vacuum, and even if the antagonist, or threat, of your story is not an identifiable person, it is the protagonist’s connection to other people, or even lack thereof, which will draw in the reader’s emotions. Lovers, relatives, friends, enemies, strangers; all will play a different role in your story.
While I’ve talked before about building character arcs and narrative structure, it’s just as important to consider how a character’s relationships are going to grow and change under the pressure of the plot. Conflict rarely leaves relationships unchanged, so you have to figure out who a character knows at the start, who they’ll meet along the way, who they’ll have lost by the end, and how their feelings and connections with those people will shift.
This can get quite complicated, so here are some resources to help you:
1: How to Create Powerful Character Combos – Mythcreants really is an invaluable source of information, and this article gets us started this week. After all, there’s no point just mashing characters together without taking the time to consider how their dynamic will play out on the page. Co-operating characters don’t simply need to get along; they each need to represent their own unique perspective and function for the plot.
2: Seven Ways to Bring Characters Together – Still with Mythcreants for this one. Not every character in your story will know one another from the start. Frequently, key moments in your plot will focus on the meeting of two or more characters who go on to face the antagonist together. Take the time to decide how such a meeting will fit into your plot, and how it will shape the relationship between the characters as it evolves.
3: Building Believable Relationships in Fiction – Now that you’ve figured out the people in the relationship and how they get together, it’s time to look at building the relationship as a whole. This is something often overlooked, especially in romance. After the relationship is established, what then? How do the characters interact? How do they behave? Are there some things they’ll only say when alone? Does one handle stress differently to the other?
4: 6 Tips for Crafting Real Connections – There’s a lot to cover when dealing with character relationships, but most important of all is making sure the relationship feels real. Your reader has to connect not just with each individual character, but with the idea that how these characters feel about each other is solid and matters.
5: Healthy vs Unhealthy Relationship – Not every relationship a character has needs to be, or even should be, a positive one. Someone can end up with people in their lives who are genuinely bad for them, even if they never realise it and even if the narrative itself never addresses it. While it can be tricky to find a balance between artistic expression and presenting a narrative that endorses a fully abusive relationship, it’s good to push your boundaries and write things that aren’t always obvious at first.
(c) Paul Anthony Shortt