How to Write Strong Character Relationships

Mar 21, 2011

Note: If you're here for the Show Me The Voice blogfest, you can find my entry here!

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?

23 comments:

J.L. Campbell said...

It's easy to neglect relationship as we plot each trial our characters have to face. As with real life, relationships enrich our journey. I can tell a lot about a person based on what other people have to say about them and so it should be in our novels. Good food for thought, Shallee.

David Powers King said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David Powers King said...

A good rule of thumb for me is to have characters help each other, even if they don't think they are, and they have to grow somehow, be somewhat changed for the better by the end. I can't agree with you more. It is often the dynamics of two or more characters that really bring out the reason for being. It's hard to do that being a lone horse.

Stellar post, Shallee! :)

Kari Marie said...

Oh, this is so true. As I wrote my first draft I realize my MC was dragging the other characters along. I had to rethink why they would be going along with it- and give them a reason to be there that conflicted or complimented my MC. I have a lot of revision to do, but the character relationships are going to be much stronger.

Janet Johnson said...

Great post and great reminder. Now I'm mentally going through all my characters' relationships.

And best of luck with Devolutionaries. I really love your first 250 words. Wish I could read more. :)

Jennifer Hoffine said...

Good stuff, esp the relationships between non-main characters...a little attention there can add depth to the whole thing.

Jessie Harrell said...

great tips!! you make me feel like I want to create a check list for my first novel of how the characters need each other and how they're in conflict

Lindz Pagel said...

Great post. I love exploring my characters relationships with each other, and you raise some very good points.

On a personal level I believe in the phrase: "People comes into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime". I try to apply this mantra to my characters' lives as well.

Abby Minard said...

It's hard for me to think about someone neglecting character relationships. But I think one of my strong points is developing relationships alongside my world building. I love how relationships between characters grow and evolve. Every little quirk and look matters in building those characters and fleshing them out.

Melissa said...

This is a great post and something that definitely gets neglected as a blog topic. I think you did really good with it here though. The relationships between characters should be as interesting and dynamic as the characters themselves. And you give a really good outline here on how we should go about that! Great post.

PS. Your first 250 ROCKS

Jolene Perry said...

When I first start something new, there is only the relationship between the two main characters, but it feels like with each person, and each relationship I add, my people become so much more real, and so much more likable.

It's a hard balance because I also like to write loners, so I find that they have a relationship with things that aren't people - one of my MC's takes pics, so her relationship is with something she does. It's a fun thing to play with.

Medeia Sharif said...

I look at how my characters benefit each other. Even if they're doing physical or material things for each other, I focus on the emotions involved.

If they're not benefiting, it's a great way to show antagonism. I relished writing about a villain clashing with the MC in one of my latest wips.

Kathryn Packer Roberts said...

This is always a good reminder. You have to love the characters in a story if you want to read about them and part of that is making their relationships realistic and in depth. Good post.

Rachna Chhabria said...

Shallee, this is a great post. We often overlook this aspect as we are busy with other elements in the story. From the past few days I have been working on strengthening my character's relationships with the other characters.

Karen said...

Shallee, you rock my socks. :) I totally needed this post. In my revisions, I've been focusing so much on when and how to reveal information that my characters have become flat and boring...which is so depressing to me! But this post helped me generate a few ideas to make them my awesome characters again. :) Thanks!

M Pax said...

It's something I've worked more on as time has gone on. At one of my workshops we learned to write out a lexicon for each character and decorate their personal space -- it should not be random but say who they are. Everyone has a different lexicon based on where they grow up, where thy live now, where they've been and what they do.

Lynda R Young said...

Great post. character relationships are just as important as the characters themselves. Great tips :)

Heather Anastasiu said...

Great post :) Ooo, my favorite relationships are ones that are a little antagonistic, but sweet underneath--like Logan and Veronica in Veronica Mars.

Rachel Morgan said...

You've made some good points here :-) Particularly the last one. I think it really helps to make your story world more REAL if the "background" characters are leading full and realistic lives of their own. Even if we (the readers) don't know much about these other lives. Even if it's just your main character walking into a room to hear one of the supporting characters talking about something unrelated to the storyline. It just feels more real that the other characters lives don't revolve solely around the main character's.

PS. Hope that all made sense!

Discount Digital Cameras said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Guest said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
James Caulfield said...

Very helpful
It's so easy to overlook the important role our background characters play in the in bringing that feeling of reality to our story

Metamorfosis said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
 
Shallee McArthur © 2013 | Designed by Bubble Shooter, in collaboration with Reseller Hosting , Forum Jual Beli and Business Solutions