One of the things that can really fuel your story is the relationship between characters. This may be the protagonist and antagonist, but it can also be a relationship between one of your main characters and a minor character, or an subplot between two minor characters.
If you get stuck in the middle of your story, a relationship prompt may give you something to get the story moving again.
Writing Exercise: Building Fictional Relationships for Your Characters
In this exercise we will show you how to build fictional relationships for your characters. It’s one of the most important elements of writing and it can be difficult! But don’t worry: we’ll break down the process and make it easy for you to follow along.
Pick two of your characters, or use two of the characters below. Read the following article and see how many of the questions you can answer about them. If you feel inspiration, pause in your reading and write your answers before continuing.
is a food server who wants to keep a promise.. He is generally trustworthy and accurate, but sometimes cynical
is a scout who wants to fulfill a prophecy.. She is generally persuasive and orderly, but sometimes bossy
is a legal secretary who wants a more exciting life.. He is generally enthusiastic and intelligent, but sometimes impatient
is a secretary who wants to be recognized and appreciated - because s/he deserves it!. She is generally forceful and persuasive, but sometimes aggressive
These questions will help you build fictional relationships where there aren’t any obvious answers.
Depending on what kind of story you’re writing, some of these questions will matter more than others.
- How did these two meet for the first time?
- What is it that attracts these two to each other?
- What is it that they hate about each other?
- How can they help each other?
- How do they hold each other back?
Are they friends, enemies, frenemies or something else entirely?
You want to make sure that your reader understands what’s happening between characters.
If two characters have a complicated relationship, or if there are many different relationships that can be built from several different perspectives (like in a group story), then it becomes even more important to have this information clearly defined so that readers can understand where everyone stands with one another.
In fiction writing, as in real life, friendship is an important relationship between two individuals that involves mutual trust, respect and enjoyment of each other’s company; however there are many different kinds of friendships in stories too! So let’s take a look at some common types:
In real life, it’s important to have a good circle of friends. You can’t live alone forever and you’ll probably miss having people around who get you and understand what you’re going through. Your characters need some sort of companionship as well. They don’t have to be the most popular kids on the block—in fact, it’s often more interesting if they’re not! But they should at least have someone who likes them and wants to hang out with them for reasons other than wanting something from them.
Your characters may be more than just friends. In fact, in a romance the character’s goal may around making the relationship a romantic one. In many novels, even romance novels, the romantic relationship evolves while your characters are pursuing other (often opposite) goals.
You don’t want to leave your reader guessing at what’s going on in the minds of your characters; you want them to know exactly why two people are together and how they feel about each other. This is especially important for any sort of romance, but it can be useful for any relationship.
A foil is a character that helps show your main character’s personality by contrast. The foil may be a friend or relative, or the primary antagonist. The main thing is that this person has a different set of values, or a different method of obtaining their goals.
For example, one character is an extrovert who gives speeches and organizes functions while the foil character is an introvert who writes anonymous letters to the editor instead. Or you could have one who wants to save the planet and the foil just wants to make a profit – but they are building a company together.
As you can see, the difference helps develop the characters, but does not mean they have to be working toward different goals.
Just shy of being your antagonist, some characters may just be obstacles. A nagging mother (or spouse) might be annoying, but they aren’t the enemy. They may even be trying to help your character while causing all kinds of interesting problems along the way.
The antagonist is the primary bad guy. The best stories make the bad guy at least a little sympathetic. If you are using this role for one of your characters, try to find some things in common with your main character too.
What is most important to each character?
The first thing you have to do is know your character. You’ve got to get inside their head and figure out what they care about, what their goals are, how they see themselves in the world.
You’ll also want to consider their fears, strengths, values and weaknesses. What would they do to achieve their goals? And how does that affect how others interact with them?
What do they have in common or nothing at all?
The first step to building a relationship is figuring out what your characters have in common. This will shape how they interact with one another and what their friendship or partnership looks like. A few questions to ask yourself when creating fictional relationships are:
- Do they have the same background? Are they both from New York City, or did they grow up in different countries?
- Do they have the same beliefs? Are they Christian or Jewish, for example? Or do they believe in science over religion (or vice versa)?
- Do they share similar values? Would it be easy for them to get along because both of them would like the same music, or belong to the same social club?
- What are their goals in life? For example, is one character trying to get into medical school while another dreams of becoming an actress on Broadway someday.
As you answer these questions you may imagine scenes where your characters get along or not. Do they both know what they have in common, or do they keep those things secret? What would happen if the secret was discovered?
Do their personalities and worldviews complement or clash?
As you design your characters, it’s important to consider how their personalities and worldviews complement or clash with the setting, other characters, and the plot.
The way that characters see themselves or are seen by others can reveal a lot about their values – for example, if one character sees himself as a powerful leader and another sees himself as an insignificant nobody who only exists because of luck and good fortune. These attitudes might be expressed in different ways: one character could be arrogant about his power while another might feel ashamed at being so weak that he needs to rely on luck.
Another aspect of considering how personalities will interact is how they view themselves versus others – if someone has low self-esteem but high self-confidence they may end up saying very positive things about themselves while insulting everyone else around them (or vice versa).
What are each character’s insecurities, and how can they use those against one another in conflicts?
Insecurities are the things that make us vulnerable. They can be used as weapons by others, or they can be used to manipulate others. For example, in many stories the bad guy will threaten or harm someone our protagonist cares about.
You don’t have to be that extreme though. You can also use vulnerabilities like a student who cares about being smart, with a parent who is never satisfied with their grades. As a result, your character may try to hide a report card because it has a “B” on it.
Would they make a good team or be competitive with one another?
There are many ways to build a relationship between two characters. The most effective way to do this is for them to have some sort of common goal or purpose that they share, such as saving the world from a villainous alien invasion.
If you don’t want your characters operating as a team, then perhaps they would compete with each other instead. For example, one character wants to save the world by making peace with the aliens, while the other one wants to kill them all by attacking their home world.
Another way that fictional relationships can be built is through complementary skillsets and interests. These might include having similar goals (or competing against each other), sharing similar passions (such as playing video games), or simply respecting one another enough to divide and conquer by playing to each others strengths.
How do their values differ and how might that lead to conflict?
I’m sure you’ve heard that a character’s values are what they believe in and what guides their actions. They might have values that differ greatly from your own, or they might have values that are similar to yours. Either way, it’s important to remember that characters’ beliefs change over time and even different people can have very different beliefs at the same time.
Relationships can bring up all kinds of areas for conflict in your story because of these differing values:
- Values conflict when characters’ goals don’t align or when their needs aren’t being met
- Values conflict when people see things differently
- Values conflict when people have different priorities—what matters most to each person?
What are the main hurdles to making the relationship work?
The next step is to figure out what the main obstacles are for them in making the relationship work. This will involve some brainstorming, but remember that they can’t just fall in love and live happily ever after. They’ll have to overcome some challenges before they can get there.
For example: if you’ve got two people who are from different social classes, the conflict might be that the lower-class person has been raised believing that menials should not associate with those of a higher class (or vice versa). Another possible obstacle would be if one character has strong religious beliefs and does not approve of same-sex marriage or relationships. Maybe one character was raised as an orphan by wealthy parents who were never around when he needed them most, while another character grew up with loving but strict parents who taught her a lot about responsibility and independence from an early age—so now she feels like she doesn’t fit into either world!
How would their families feel about this relationship?
You have to ask yourself, how would their family feel about this relationship? How would the relationship affect their family? Would the character’s personal life be affected by his or her new love interest? What about the characters’ work lives, if they have them (or if they don’t)? What if the protagonist turns out to be a respected member of the family? Or your character’s new boss was once your sister’s boyfriend?
How would society react to this relationship?
Another factor in the relationship between your characters, is how society would react. This can depend on a number of factors, including if they’re friends or family members, if it’s a romantic relationship and how those feelings are expressed and received by other characters in the story.
People can do (or would not do) all kinds of things in public that they wouldn’t (or would) do in private. How do your characters believe society views their relationship? How does this affect the relationship in private? In public?
Hopefully, these questions have helped you get a better idea of what your characters’ relationships are like. There’s no right or wrong answers, but they should help you get started on building fictional relationships that both make sense and feel real to your reader.