Writing Discussion

Stages of a Relationship

There are three kinds of story engines (that I know of): character driven, plot driven, and idea driven.

I usually hook onto character so the crux of my stories can boil down to relationships: good relationships, bad relationships, tangles of motivation, not necessarily romance, but how characters interact with each other and the world.

Lately, I’ve been mulling over how relationships unfold in life.

Acquaintance

The first meeting can be forced, deliberate, or accidental. Sometimes there’s an immediate liking, other times it takes time to get past shyness or prickly defenses. Sometimes the other is a complement, a foil that frustrates and challenges you.

Sometimes there’s quiet admiration and respect. Maybe there’s an understanding, a shared loss that no one else can understand. Sometimes it’s just finding someone that appreciates your corny sense of humor.

Sometimes it’s all fire, and try as you might, you just can’t get along. You’re two stones scraping together going the same direction, and you just have to make it work because you have no other choice. When whatever brings you together is done with, you move on and forget each other. It never becomes anything more.

Friendship

Sometimes it proceeds cautiously, you’re not sure what is sincere. Other people open up easily, put their trust in you, and you the onus not to break that trust rests in your hands.

You discover that you can depend on the other for certain things, or that you can never leave the other alone in the kitchen.

Sometimes you don’t realize it’s friendship until one day you look at the other over shared laughter or tears. That moment when acquaintance turns into friendship can be a beautiful thing. But, it can also be a gradual slide, and you can find no single moment to define it.

When trust is broken, it can turn to hate, and things end here unless trust is reestablished.

Love

Usually it’s simmers beneath the surface before its said. Sometimes the saying is a huge moment, the thing you’ve been waiting for all along, because to say “I love you” is always to risk heart break. Sometimes the saying is an afterthought, blurted out in passing, full of laughter, because you think, “well it’s about time!”

Sometimes its unspoken, and will never be voiced, because it can never ever acted upon.

Sometimes it’s not returned.


Relationships can be simple, messy, unhealthy, rewarding, challenging, twisted, and a thousand other things. I like to keep those dynamics in mind when I write.

I’m just a hopeless romantic, really.

Do you consider relationship dynamics in your stories? Do you build them deliberately or do they emerge on their own?

31 Comments

  1. I think most relationships are a mixture of stuff, and can change on a daily basis. Someone who loves you can be annoyed by you so much they can’t stand to be near you, and then the next day they like you again. But it’s tricky to do that with characters and make them complex without seeming inconsistent.

    1. T.S. Bazelli Author

      I agree. That can be tricky, and there’s not always the space to get into those sorts of details in the span of a novel. It is something to consider though. Thanks mooderino!

  2. Absolutely! Exploring relationship dynamics between characters is one of the most interesting things about writing a novel, for me.

    Most of the time I start with an idea for two characters and how I think their relationship should carry on, though often it evolves into something I hadn’t planned for, especially when I follow the whims of certain lines of dialogue. Even so, I try to take the relationships in unexpected directions, so as not to be cliché or predictable. (I really like exploring characters whose relationships are tumultuous or twisted, as you say—ones that are interesting to watch play out but always make you wonder if they’re all that beneficial to the characters involved.)

    It’s always exciting to see how things develop as you continue to write.

    1. T.S. Bazelli Author

      The unexpected revelations are always exciting, even if they don’t go in the same direction as I hoped or planned. Some characters, despite the best of intentions, just never get along, and those tumultuous relationships sure are fun to play with. Sounds like we have similar approaches to this 🙂

  3. I think relationships in literature need to be organic although there is the common pattern of character can’t stand character B. Both characters are forced to work together. Both characters end up either: a) falling in love or b) becoming best friends.

    I agree with Yoyo…the unconventional approach can be very satisfying and surprising at the outcomes.

    1. The classic: brassy girl who spends the entire story insulting the boy ends up with him. I see that a lot in genre fiction, and not done believably. I also prefer the unconventional.

  4. I read, studied, and taught a lot of Shakespeare. So interestingly, I think my take on characters and relationships comes from The Bard.

    I enjoy foils, which helps accentuate each character even more. I love edgy characters, where sometimes what they say and what they do don’t match up. A lot of tension can be built in a story where one character has to rely on another character that they don’t trust. Very much like real life.

    Relationships in real life are dynamic, and I believe they should be in any novel as well.

    1. Foils are something I want to play around with more in the future. I like that example of the edgy character too. There are endless variations to the dynamics, and characters, aren’t there? You’ve also reminded me that it’s been a long while since I’ve brushed up on my Shakespeare.

  5. Definitely I consider relationship dynamics in my stories. Like you, I think they are one of the most important building blocks. Some of them I craft deliberately, usually among the principal characters. What’s fun is to see how the side characters come into play, how they interact with everyone else, how their relationships evolve.

  6. Love Shakespeare. I think good ‘ol Bill has a lot to teach us about characters, relationships, and drama.

    In my current WIP, I play homage to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. I just think it’s funny how there’s no distinguishing between these two poor saps that Hamlet fools. They are interchangeable, and I once saw a performance of Hamlet where the two actors interchanged the characters constantly just to emphasize their indistinguishability (if that’s a word).

    1. That would have been a joy to watch, and not something I’ve ever considered: the deliberate opposite of a foil. I wonder if it could be used for dramatic purposes rather than a comedic one.

  7. In the old, incomplete WIP of my long-time novel (Project SOA#1) I really didn’t consider character relationships very deeply… except in how the characters filled typical relationship roles seen in fantasy (The Protag; Protag’s Love Interest, Protag’s Best Friend, Protag’s Best Friend’s Love Interest, Protag’s Guide, and Fool, primarily).

    Later, as my progress on this particular draft began to slow, I caught the “Harry Potter” fever. Even as I enjoyed Harry Potter, I struggled to understand its specific appeal. It was a fantasy, sure, and I dig me some fantasy. But there are fantasies I don’t like, because they’re not well-executed. So, it’s well-written. But what else? Most of the plot elements are common, you might say tried-and-true or you might say over-used cliche, take your pick, but it doesn’t offer much that’s new with regard to the standard tropes of fantasy.

    Then, finally, I hit on it. It’s the characters. More specifically, it’s the relationships between characters we’ve come to care about. And how they’re all tangled together by mistakes made in the past by others from the prior generation…

    That’s when I realized how important character relationships are, how important that they be interesting, and how important that characters be people we care about.

    In my last big story, “PFTETD”, I specifically focused on character relationships as one of the primary themes of the story. I think it worked out well…

    1. You’re making me want to reread Harry Potter. I’ve read books where the ideas are paramount (hard sf), or plot is the focus (thrillers/mysteries), so I know people don’t always prefer it, but the characters are important to me as a reader. The relationships are what glue me to a story and stop me from putting the book down, because I’m invested and want to know what will happen to these people I care about.

      Was that the honorable mention story? hehe I keep getting your story acronyms mixed up, sorry.

      1. Yeah, PFTETD was the honorable mention. It was one part “oh, that’s funny and cool” idea piece and one part “characters and relationships and crap from the past” piece. The former part means it started out funny and the latter part means it takes a tragic turn.

  8. You know my view on this. I think every character needs an objective an obstacle and an action for it to play off naturally on the page, and so there is some tension there. Personally, I don’t like to paint up perfect relationships in my stories.

    When’s the last time you were in relationship that was perfect?

  9. Wow – your post just took me through the span of my life in a flash and through the relationships that flesh it out. In fact, the post almost seemed like a short story in and of itself! =) I identified with some of your non-characters, laughed about some of them and sympathized with others.

  10. When I think of my characters, I think their inherent relationships build organically, and they are by nature messy and convoluted and sometimes wonderful.

    P.S. Thanks for dropping by my blog, and keep writing the wonderful content you do.

  11. oh, this is cool. I work really hard on making dynamic, believable relationships in my stories… but, I know I need to improve a great deal before I even try to get anything published. very important. for me, very hard too. 🙂

  12. Like you point out, relationships aren’t necessarily friendships. They are any form of relation between two parties. Hey, a hero and arch-nemesis have a relationship of some sort. Other relationships are more complex—think Fraulein (sp?) Maria & Captain Von Trapp. Or Anne and Gilbert.

    Other times things just click, eh what? Like Me & Planty. 😀 Or me and my various blogger friends.

    I love friendships. Good post. 😀

    1. T.S. Bazelli Author

      All character interactions are negotiations of relationship, even the interaction with the settings or place. The arch-nemesis is an extra special kind of relationship and I love it when the grudge is personal.

      Hehe I think you and Planty have it good together. Now don’t you neglect to water! Thanks Seph!

  13. I like how you capture risk in there. I also think about how two people move between these levels (I think of them more as spectrums) at different speeds and like you mention with the trust may move backwards and forwards over time.

    1. T.S. Bazelli Author

      I was thinking of it like a choose your own adventure story. The paths twist and wind, and end, and begin. But I like the idea of thinking of it as a spectrum too. That brought into a mind the image of a ballet, or people running a marathon. hehe

  14. Eric W

    >>There are three kinds of story engines (that I know of): character driven, plot driven, and idea driven.

    Orson Scott Card would argue there are actually *four*. Google his name and “MICE quotient”. The one you didn’t mention he calls “Milieu” – it focuses on the world (rather than on an Idea, Characters, or plot/Events).

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