Tuesday, August 11, 2020

6 Crucial Character Relationships

By Laurence MacNaughton, @LMacNaughton

Part of The How They Do It Series

JH: Relationships in a novel add so much depth to a story and so many opportunities for the plot. Laurence MacNaughton shares six relationships every protagonist needs.

No character exists in a vacuum. They are surrounded by friends, enemies, neighbors, coworkers, and a crowd of others. If you put a little work into their tangled web of relationships, it pays off in developing your character, deepening your story, and enriching your world.

Below are the six crucial types of character relationships. Your main character should have at least one of these. Preferably one of each.

As you read through these, think about your main character and this other person. Imagine that you are interviewing your character. Write down the answers. You may be amazed at the wealth of story ideas you uncover.

1. FRIEND: someone you’re buddies with.

This could be a childhood friend, classmate, best friend, casual friend, workout buddy, etc.
  • How did you meet?
  • How long have you been friends? Are you still in touch, or is it in the past?
  • How close are you?
  • What do you do together?
  • What do you bond over?
  • What do you fight about?
  • In what ways are you completely different?
  • What could you teach one another?

2. ENEMY: someone you're up against.

This could be someone who is competing against you, wants what you have, always tries to one-up you, wronged you, betrayed you, defamed you, attacked you, took something from you, hurt someone you love, nearly ruined you, or simply pushed you too far.
  • What happened in the past that made them an enemy?
  • Is the animosity mutual, or one-sided? How strong is it?
  • Where and how often do you cross paths?
  • How does this feud spill over into the rest of your life?
  • In what way are the two of you actually similar?

3. LOVE INTEREST: someone you are (or want to be) romantically involved with.

This could be your girlfriend/boyfriend, wife/husband, ex, casual date, friend with benefits, or just a friend (...at least so far).
  • Is the attraction mutual, or one-sided?
  • Is this a new thing, or do you have a history?
  • Is this relationship public knowledge, or secret? (And what would happen if word got out?)
  • How did you meet?
  • What do you have in common?
  • How are you completely mismatched (by age, income, power, looks, lifestyle, beliefs, etc.)?
  • What’s keeping you apart? (Is it forbidden, improper, against the rules, or unrequited? Is there someone else?)

4. FAMILY: someone you're related to.

This could be your mother/father, sister/brother, child, grandparent, cousin, in-law, step ___, foster ___, adopted ___, or not related but “like a ___ to me.”
  • How close are you?
  • What do you bond over?
  • What do you fight about?
  • What could you teach one another?
  • What family traits do you share?
  • What sets you apart from the rest of your family?

5. WORK: someone you work with.

This could be your boss, employee, coworker, collaborator, partner, customer or client, competitor, or former ___.
  • What do you work on together?
  • How long have you worked together?
  • What's something that has brought you into conflict at work?
  • Describe a tough problem you solved together.

6. NEIGHBOR: someone who lives, works, or plays near you.

This could be your next-door neighbor, classmate, mayor, local volunteer, pillar of the community, member of your sports team, bartender, or some familiar face from down the street.
  • Do you share an interest or goal?
  • In what way are you opposite one another?
  • What have you argued about?
  • Do you have any adversaries in common (in politics, business, sports, local issues, etc.)?

Your turn: give your main character one of each of these relationships.

These are the six main types of relationships between characters. If you include more of them in your story, you character becomes more complex and more interesting.

Chances are, you already have plenty of characters in your story that could be connected by one or more relationships.

Here's your challenge:

Look at the world through your main character's eyes. Give them one of each kind of relationship: a friend, an enemy, etc. Look at your existing cast of characters to see if any of these match up. If not, change an existing character or invent a new one.

Then go through the list of questions and see if any of them spark ideas. Jot your thoughts down in your notebook. Then choose your favorite ideas and work them into your novel. Your readers will love you for it.

Afterwards, how did it go? Do you have any questions? Leave me a comment or contact me on my author website at www.LaurenceMacNaughton.com.

Laurence MacNaughton is the author of more than a dozen novels, novellas, and short stories. His work has been praised by Booklist, Publishers Weekly, RT Book Reviews, Library Journal, and Kirkus Reviews. He lives in Colorado with his wife and too many old cars. Try his stories for free at www.laurencemacnaughton.com.

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About Forever and a Doomsday

Crystal shop owner and quick-witted sorceress Dru Jasper is the guardian of the apocalypse scroll, an ancient instrument of destruction held in check by seven bloodred seals. All but one have been broken.

Now, a chilling cohort of soul-devouring wraiths has risen from the netherworld to crack open the final seal. If Dru and her misfit friends can’t stop them, the world will come to a fiery end. No pressure or anything.

These freakishly evil spirits can kill with a mere touch, making them impossible to fight by mortal means. To keep the apocalypse scroll out of their clutches, Dru must solve a 2,000-year-old magical mystery, find a city lost in the netherworld, and unearth a crystal older than the Earth itself.

Can she elude the forces of darkness long enough to save her friends and safeguard the scroll forever—before the undead break the seventh seal and bring on doomsday?

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  1. How is the recommendation to have at least one of each of the six types of relationship supposed to work with type 3, love interest, and characters who are one or both of asexual and aromantic?

    1. Sasha Anderson8/14/2020 8:12 PM

      Nice question - my first thought would be whether this character has (or is looking for) some sort of queer platonic partner and/or any kind of life commitment that goes beyond friendship as usually understood by non-asexual people. Other than that, I saw it as saying that characters should have at least one from one category - but the use of 'preferably' one of each could be a bit problematic.

      I'd also be interested in a reply from the author, though!

    2. I know Laurence is swamped on deadlines right now, so he might not have checked the comments yet.

      I think the goal here is to think about the relationships and how they affect (or have affected) the main character, and use that to help develop the character and deepen the story. It doesn't necessarily mean put all six of these into the story and make them characters. It's an exercise to generate ideas, not a rule.

      Alex, if including all of these relationships doesn't work for your story, just don't use them. This is to help writers deepen their characters by rounding out the people in their lives and consider how those people might affect them and the story.

      But people are also people, and it shouldn't make any difference what preference they have. The "love interest" character might not be in your story, or it might take a different form that better suits your characters. Maybe it's "someone they care about" instead. Maybe it's a past love that changed who the main character is. Maybe it's a person that inspires them to change and grow somehow. Adjust this as needed to suit your story and characters.

      This can also be genre-dependent. You'll see more of these relationships in one genre than another, or some of them will be more critical than others. No love interests in middle grade fiction, for example, or co-workers (usually).

      Hopefully Laurence will get a free moment to weigh in as well :)