How to Write Character Relationships

Looking at some classic character pairs will help reveal how write character relationships. In most novels, the main character has a host of helpers, lovers and friends. Think of some of the supporting characters in your favorite books: Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley in the Harry Potter series. Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice. Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Whether the relationship is between friends, partners, lovers, or a mentor and a mentee, it’s critical that the arc of your protagonist is made even more dynamic, complex and, therefore, entertaining, by this crucial supporting character.

In a previous article, I outlined how to identify whether your novel has a driving relationship—the close bond between two “good guy” characters that helps spur the story forward. They goad their protagonist on and directly influence the story arc. The driving relationship is the one relationship that embodies both the story concept and the character.

This post guides you through the arc that relationship should take over the course of the novel. It is the clearest window into your main character’s experience. It also helps propel the character journey forward. Read on for a few specific steps in charting an effective driving relationship in your novel.


4 key moments for a great driving relationship:


1. The status quo

This is where readers get the first taste of the driving relationship. This doesn’t necessarily have to be the very first time we see Mr. Darcy, Ron Weasley, or Lisbeth Salander—think of it more as a pivotal scene that shows how the protagonist interacts with the driving-relationship characters on a regular, everyday basis. Consider the nature of the relationship: flirtatious? Tense? Antagonistic? Is it a mentor-mentee relationship?

Think of this scene as the starting point for this relationship arc. Remember that, like your protagonist’s arc, the driving relationship between these two characters should almost test their bond—face challenges, and be forced to transform. At this point, know you’ll have to make readers question: Will this relationship be resilient enough to withstand the trials and tribulations my character will face over the course of the novel?


2. The Shift

Like “The Happening,” a key moment I discuss often when teaching my authors about the important parts of a story, The Shift is when something occurs that changes how these two characters relate to each other. It’s often a big moment: a first kiss after years of “will we, won’t we” tension, or one character standing up for the other.

The Shift is a signal to readers that something has caused this relationship to change in a way that will make it impossible for things to be as they were in The Status Quo. In The Hunger Games, when main character Katniss and Peeta are both selected to fight in the hunger games, it’s crystal clear that their relationship will change from mere acquaintances to something much more intense. In their first time holding hands in front of everyone in their district, they are marked as both a team and a potential romantic partnership. Readers ask: Will they begin to believe this themselves?

3. The Rupture

Things have gone downhill. At this point in the arc of the driving relationship, this is the lowest point in the main character’s journey too. This is also where the characters have had a falling out or are separated by an outside force. For example: a lover walks out after an emotional fight; a business partner disappears; a friend is kidnapped by the villain.

There’s usually an element of betrayal and isolation. In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Ron suspects Harry placed his name into the goblet of fire on purpose to show off. Harry, on the other hand, is hurt that Ron would think that of him. Both characters, once best friends, suddenly don’t trust each other. It’s a clear low point.


4. The Reunion

After the tension or sorrow of The Rupture, this is where things start to look brighter for the relationship. The protagonist realizes that in spite of the hurt or distrust that mired the characters’ relationship during The Rupture, their hearts are still in the right place. There’s a peaceful, satisfying, or helpful conclusion. The dynamic is restored. In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy realize their love for each other, and their compatability.

The reformed relationship may even give the protagonist a burst of energy or inspiration to accomplish his goal and see his journey through to an epic conclusion.

Another important thing to keep in mind about this final stage of the driving relationship is that the driving relationship is the one that’s the most changeable, the most turbulent, and the one that changes the main character the most. The struggles that the characters endured should make them stronger.


Do you have questions about whether your novel’s driving relationship is strong enough, or how to create one in the first place? Ask me in the comments below.


These tips were adapted from my award-winning book, The Novel-Maker’s Handbook: The No Nonsense Guide to Crafting a Marketable Story.


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