Developing Character Relationships.
by Kaitlyn Legaspi
For me, there’s nothing better than reading and witnessing the development of a relationship between two characters. Whether it be friends to lovers, enemies to lovers, enemies to friends, or just growth of understanding between two already established friends, I always keep a close eye on these character relationships because I believe they are an important part of any story. The plot may be perfectly executed, but it’s the characters and their connections that can make a story more relatable and impactful. There are quite few things that come to mind when creating a well-developed character relationship, so let’s get into it!
Before even getting into developing character relationships, know as much as you can about your individual characters. Knowing the ins and outs of your characters is necessary to creating dynamic character relationships. Yes, you can get away without making in-depth character profiles and having a friendship come to life just by writing it. I’m guilty of that.
Still, if you want to create a friendship or rivalry that really sticks in the memories of readers, knowing your characters’ every like, dislike, fear, strength, and weakness is crucial. These categories and many more can determine what kind of conversations two characters may have. To set a simple example, one character may absolutely love sweets, but their friend might loathe them. It’s a mediocre example of a difference between two friends, but it’s a realistic one. This realism is what gets readers to fall in love with a character relationship, or at least have it stick in their heads.
If you really want to get deep into developing a really good character relationship, determining what kind of relationship you want your characters to have is the perfect next step. there are a ton of different kinds of relationships out there. Friends, enemies, familial relationships, and rivalries are probably the ones that come to mind most often for me personally. Then, you have ones that are never usually in the foreground of any story, such as the relationship between a boss and employee, the APPROPRIATE student and teacher relationship, the relationship between coworkers, and so on and so forth. Also, there are the healthy types of relationships and the more toxic ones. Doing this step will set a goal for your mind to follow as you’re writing these characters’ interactions, and you’re more likely to get the relationship you want this way.
Once you’ve got all your character profiles written and the kinds of relationships you want out of the way, the next thing you’re probably going to do is start writing your story, and that entails your characters meeting for the first time. That means creating an authentic connection. Now, this connection doesn’t have to happen right away. Not everyone gets along upon first meeting, and not everyone is going to have a good first impression of someone else. For example, in my latest book Red Blood, my characters Neela and Amil get a pretty rocky start to their friendship, nearly getting into a fistfight on first meeting. Still—minor spoiler alert—they become friends and rivals. This authentic connection between characters can be as simple as liking the same music or as deep as having similar fears or traumatic experiences. How these similarities come up in the story all depends on you, and making it feel natural and not forced or rushed is important, which brings me to my next point.
Please make your characters’ relationship development gradual and not instant.
Nothing bothers me more than a relationship that’s too quick to develop, especially romantic ones. Now, I know there are amazing friendships out there in the real world that happen within the first five minutes of two people meeting each other. Believe me, I’ve had a couple of those miracles happen to me, but I’m pretty sure it’s safe to say that the grand majority of amazing friendships don’t happen within a day. They happen gradually over time, and this applies to both healthy and toxic relationships. If executed really well, you could get away with totally disregarding this, but it seriously needs to be done exceptionally.
Just as a side note, this is also where plotting comes in handy, especially if your story is heavily character-driven, such as in a romance. Planning how and when your characters meet and important events that drive them closer or apart can provide a great image of what you want to write before you write it. Also, if anything changes, you can change your outline accordingly.
Remember that actions speak louder than words. This one is a bit of a nitty-gritty thing, but it really does make a difference between a good character interaction and a great one. There’s a difference in emotional impact between a character who outright says they’re annoyed versus a character who shows they’re annoyed by huffing or rolling their eyes. People in real life show what they really feel through nonverbal cues, so book characters should be able to do the same thing. Actions like these can also do a lot to increase the impact of an emotional scene, so sprinkling them in to build up tension can make a big difference.
Finally, draw inspiration for character relationships from real life. If you think you don’t have good examples you can draw from real life, referencing different character relationships in books, movies, TV shows, cartoons, etc. is also something you can do. I can’t tell you how much my relationship with my boyfriend has influenced the relationship between two of my favorite characters in this one particular book.
Also, I’m positive a lot of the friendship dynamics my characters have are heavily inspired by the friendships I’ve seen in anime since I’m basically a hermit. Referencing relationships from real life or books, movies, and shows that feature really well-developed relationships can really help to add realism to the relationships you’re trying to write. No relationship is perfect. There are conflicts, ups and downs, fights, and makeups and breakups. Showing these realistic flaws in your character relationships helps them become more relatable to the reader, and they’re more likely to establish an emotional connection with your characters this way.
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