Thursday, April 16, 2015

Developing Character Relationship Arcs

Hello, it's Dan today and I'm here to share some relationship advice. Not in the way you think. I'm talking about making character relationships dynamic in fiction.

Books and classes for new writers often focus on the character arc as one of the most important elements of story structure. There is good reason for this, of course: we want to see our characters change enough so that they are not the same people we met at the beginning of the book.

There's another important character-related arc in fiction, however, and that is the dynamic nature of a relationship between two characters. A relationship arc, if you will. In the romance genre -- which I confess I do not read nearly as much as my co-bloggers do -- the character relationship arc is often more visible than individual character arcs. Will they get together, or won't they?

Another popular type of character relationship arc is the "cop buddy" drama, which pairs up a team of unlikely partners (e.g. detectives with completely different styles) with a common mission. The mismatch produces conflict right away and keeps the tension high until that satisfying moment when the two partners finally become pals. At which point they usually start kicking ass and taking names.

There are other kinds of character relationships to be exploited or to change in storytelling:

  • Friends become enemies, or enemies become friends
  • Student-teacher or acolyte-mentor relationships
  • Rivals forced to become allies, or vice-versa
Now it's your turn: what kind of character relationship arcs do you enjoy reading or writing?

Lisa: I like enemies or opposites who are forced to be together, hence forced to learn more about each other, which leads them to a truce. There's always room for comedy there, and I like for there to be almost as much comedy as there is drama in a book. But I do hate the obvious routes: the cheerleader and the goth girl. I like to think of "couples" who you'd never think of having so much conflict, but once you see them together, you're like: Oh yeah, I guess they actually would have a hard time getting along.

Karlie: Like Lisa, I prefer the more subtle opposition - not the really obvious clashing characters. I also like the idea of allies turning into rivals - there's so much to explore there. Better yet, let's put a different spin on "girl meets guy, hates guy's guts, falls in love" angle. In one of my novels, a girl is forced to work with a man who committed terrible atrocities against her family, but as the book goes on, the things revealed show that he might not be to blame for what he did. She falls in love with him but part of her is always remembering the man he used to be, and it eventually drives them apart. So I love that kind of conflict - emotionally torn in two with very good reasons for both sides.

Caitlin: I really like it when you have two characters in a romance and you think, how is this going to work!? Not because of personalities, so much, but because of the situation. Kate Sherwood's The Mark of Cain comes to mind. Cain killed Mark's brother in a bar, before he even knew Mark. When Cain is released from jail, Mark and his family are devastated. I'll admit for the first 30% or so of the book I kept reading simply because I was thinking "How is Kate Sherwood ever going to pull this off?" But in the end it's a really adorable romance and you're rooting for both characters to get over that whole killing thing and fall in love already, because they're perfect for each other.

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