Writers talk all the time about creating strong characters, dynamic characters, memorable and unique characters. It's the core of our stories-- it's not just about what happened, but who it happened to. But there's a side of character development I think we often neglect, and it's one of the most important parts of who human beings are.
Our relationships with other people.
Characterization-- who a person/character is-- can sometimes be shown more strongly through relationships than through anything else. A relationship between characters is often a whole plotline itself. But even when it isn't, your characters will never feel as strong, dynamic, memorable or unique if you ignore their relationships.
As I've gone to conferences and worked on Devolutionaries, I've tried to make my relationships as strong, dynamic, and memorable as the characters themselves. Here's a few things I've learned.
For a strong relationship, no matter the type, your characters should need each other. There should be something about each of them that needs the other. In Devs, my main character Ash needs each of the others, even if he doesn't like it (or like to admit it). He has a distrustrustful and antagonistic relationship with another character-- but he also needs the training this character can give him. And this character needs Ash's ability to take risks to get what he wants.
There should be at least one reason-- and maybe more-- that each of your characters needs the others. This is especially important in romantic relationships. They need to fulfill a need in each other.
Of course, if that's all you use to define your relationships, you'll have a boring story. Your characters should also be in conflict with each other. This doesn't mean they have to be fighting all the time, or even that they have to have exactly opposite characteristics. But there should be some aspect of your characters that causes conflict. In Devs, Ash and his love interest have conflicting moral views on a key issue. For Ash and another character, their similarities (stubbornness, distrust) are actually what puts them into conflict.
Just like a character changes, relationships must change throughout the story. A static relationship is a boring relationship. However the relationship starts in the story, it needs to be grow and be different in the end. Through the conflicts and the needs, the way the characters see and interact with each other will be different. This is not restricted to romantic relationships-- Ash's relationships with each of the main characters evolves over the story.
And finally, don't forget about the relationships of the non-main characters with each other. This is something I'm trying to fix in my revisions. Ash's relationships with the other characters are the most important, but the other characters have relationships with each other that make the story stronger and more real. It doesn't have to be a focus, but it should be an element in the story.
So, my friends, how do you approach your character's relationships? What have you found that helps make them stronger? What are some of your favorite character relationships in books and movies?