Your Novel's Most Important Relationship

Do your characters have a driving relationship? No, this term does not imply they only interact on long car rides.

Novels often involve many different relationships, and the main character can have relationships with dozens of other characters. But there is one relationship that stands out above all the others, and helps to drive the story forward: The Driving Relationship. This is your novel’s most important relationship — one that is the most changeable, the most turbulent, and the one that impacts on your main character the most.

Here are some examples:

In a romance, this is most often the love relationship, such as with Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy in Pride & Prejudice. In a cop story, it could be the buddy relationship, such as with Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon. In a legal thriller it would most probably be the client and the attorney — like the one portrayed in John Grisham’s The Client. In The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the driving relationship is between the reporter Mikael Blomkvist and the computer hacker Lisbeth Salander.

Why is it so important to know the driving relationship when writing a novel?

Understanding this relationship will help you to make strong creative decisions as you develop your story. The driving relationship is the one relationship that embodies both the story concept and character. It is the clearest window into your main character’s experience and is the one that helps propel the main character’s journey.

If you’re not sure which of your characters fits the dynamic relationship, ask the following questions:

  1. Which character forces the main character to confront her weaknesses or mistakes?
  1. Which relationship changes in nature from the beginning of the story to the end?
  1. Which character offers the best thematic window into the story?
  1. Which relationship is the most interesting?

Even if you are sure, answering these questions will help you to capitalize on this relationship to deepen the novel. Consider them your personal worksheet as you write for developing a meaningful bond between characters.

What are your favorite driving relationships in literature?

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