How To Build Character Relationships

By on December 23, 2019

If you want your book to be successful, you not only have to write great characters but also understand how to make your characters interact with one another authentically and excitingly.

A standalone hero or heroine won't get very far, and it is through the process of conversation, action, and reaction that all your characters come to life and resonate with your readers.

It can be all too easy for writers to focus on developing characters in isolation of one another that we do not spend nearly enough time thinking about how to build upon the relationships between them. 

So what are the secrets to building strong character relationships? Let's examine some of them.

Characterization

You can create a much more vivid image of a character or convey their personality more strongly by describing them through the eyes of another. This technique draws readers into the world and creates immediacy and shows the reader rather than telling them. Using actions and reactions to describe a character is so much more useful than listing measurements or generic adjectives. 

Setting

Rather than tell a character what they are seeing, let them experience the world through the way characters behave, their mood, and how they interact with it and each other. Setting can be used metaphorically or reflectively to show readers how strong the relationship is, how warm it is, whether it will last or if it is damaged in some way. Pathetic fallacy, for example, if a great way of using inanimate objects to convey human emotions and can help readers more fully engage with what's happening and how the characters are thinking and feeling. Using evocative phrases helps the reader understand the mood and emotion that exists between the characters, and can be very powerful.

Dialogue

Naturally, the way characters talk to one another and how they react to what another has (or hasn't) said is a great way to build relationships between them and drive your story forward.

Stephen King describes dialogue as a way of "bring[ing] characters to life through their speech." Dialogue should be authentic, have purpose and act as fuel for your plot. Don't be tempted to use it for spewing information, nor should you try to imitate 'real life' speech accurately. The way that characters talk should indicate to the reader how they feel about one another but can also be layered and subtle - for example, if one character always mocks the other, perhaps this infers he has a secret crush on her, and so on. 

Backstories

All characters have vast stretches of history that went before them before they arrived in your story. You should know your characters' backstories inside out, but do you need to share every last detail with your readers? Probably not. Backstory can be a great way of revealing how character relationships have formed, but be selective with your information and use your words wisely. 

Motivations

The harmonious and conflicting motivations of each of your characters play a significant part in how their relationships will play out. By revealing each character's motivation, you can allow your reader to understand what drives them, and in doing so, why they behave or speak in a particular way to another character. Explore how they clash and interlink, and you'll strengthen those relationships and keep your reader engaged at the same time.

By following the above, you can make sure that each encounter between characters is significant, propelling your story forward and taking the reader along, fully engaged, and immersed until the very last page. 

bethany cadman
Bethany Cadman - bethanycadman.co.uk

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