Yet More Tips To Portray Believable & Healthy Friendships & Romances
Even more things to help you write out better relationships, be they romantic or platonic. And like the last article, a lot of this content is especially pertinent to those of you who want to pair canon characters and OCs (though it definitely applies to any and all character pairings!).
Table of Contents
- Don't rush or take shortcuts when showing a relationship develop.
- Don't drop in a romance or crush out of nowhere.
- Be careful that you aren't creating/portraying an emotional vampire as a good friend or lover.
- And a few other odds and ends...
- So, to recap...
Don't rush or take shortcuts when showing a relationship develop.
If you're writing a story that's supposed to focus on friendships and romances, the last thing you want to do is brush over their important or dramatic developments with fuzzy fiats like "They sat down next to each other at lunch, and after just a few minutes of talking, Alyssa knew they were going to be great friends" or "Kaitlyn ran off crying after the argument with Taylor, but Alyssa went and talked to them and straightened the whole thing out, and by dinner everything was fine." Glossing over important relationship developments like this won't do your story any favors.
People who pick up a story that supposedly focuses on friendship and/or romance are typically looking for an emotional experience, and stories that fuzz over relationship developments, good or bad, don't do a good job of getting people hooked emotionally. So when something dramatic does happen, they may not be hooked enough to feel much of anything and they may soon be off to find another story that actually gives them what they want.
It also makes it hard (if not impossible!) for people to believe in your characters' relationships - and if a relationship is supposed to be an important part of your story/story arc, you absolutely need people to believe in it because that's the point of your story. Don't just say that your character makes/has a bunch of friends - show your character making friends and being a friend. Don't just say that your character met so-and-so and that after a few days they'd fallen in love - show how their romance builds and progresses.
This is also why facilitating a relationship by giving characters powers that let them see what's inside a person isn't a great idea. Typically these powers end up becoming sort of a "cheat" that lets the characters sidestep the work of getting to know people, but watching characters go through the process of getting to know each other is often a huge part of what makes interpersonal stories interesting and emotionally fulfilling. (If you want one character to see that the other is good, show the other character actually willingly doing something good - and not just failing to do something bad.)
Don't drop in a romance or crush out of nowhere.
If a long-running major character is suddenly ready for a serious relationship with an all-new character, or if someone is suddenly nigh ready to run away to Vegas with someone xe's never shown any real interest in before, then people are likely to balk, often with the feeling that the relationship is forced or awkward. It'll be even worse if the character already seems to have chemistry with someone else, or has personal reasons for not getting into a relationship, or has never shown any real interest in having a relationship (let alone cast flirty eyes or made come-ons to anyone, ever), period.
If one half of the ship is a new character, then you need to allow people some time to get to know and become attached to the new character before a serious relationship starts developing. And then, build the relationship up on-page or on-screen over time, rather than dropping it in at once. Don't show a character who has expressed no interest in a serious relationship suddenly jumping to get into one virtually overnight, but instead build up a relationship by showing things now and then that indicate that a character wants a relationship and is attracted to the other character. If a character has expressed reasons for not getting into a relationship, then that character should be shown having to reevalute or reconsider those reasons - and if that reason is part of that character's sense of identity, then it shouldn't be easy.
Essentially, you need to make sure your audience can understand why your characters are behaving the way they are. If you simply say "well, it makes perfect sense to me" and throw it in there without showing any kind of visible character development, nor any appropriate and plausible shifts in their attitudes toward each other beforehand, you're shooting yourself in the foot.
Be careful that you aren't creating/portraying an emotional vampire as a good friend or lover.
One type of emotional vampire are the kind who make no effort to take responsibility for their own happiness, instead leaving it all up to other people. They won't try to take up a hobby or find something to do to that might make them feel good about themselves (they may technically have a hobby, but it's clear that it doesn't bring them any real joy as they'll easily be able to give it up or ignore it as soon as they find someone to latch onto), nor will they make any effort to confront whatever demons are eating away at their self-worth. Instead, they'll mope around and wait for someone to lavish them with attention and listen to all their woes and tell them how beautiful, special, or whatever they really are. The closest they'll ever come to admitting they have a problem is to throw fits and bawl over how pathetic, worthless, weak, ugly, etc. they are just so other characters can come and comfort them with affection and platitudes.
Basically, characters who require constant attention, doting, and/or praise from other characters to be moderately happy and/or maintain a sense of self-worth, and won't try anything else that might give them any kind of happiness or help them manage their emotions themselves, are this kind of emotional vampire. Interacting with this kind of person for any significant period of time will leave one feeling exhausted and drained sooner or later, as they'll suck their victims emotionally dry if allowed to.
Now, if a character is deliberately created to be an emotional vampire and that's supposed to be a problem in-story, you're probably fine. But if we're supposed to be totally on board with this kind of relationship and believe that it's genuine friendship or true love, that's a problem. Anyone who knows what to look for will immediately recognize this as a parasitic relationship - genuine friendships and true love go both ways, whereas emotional vampires are all take and little to no give. (And no, one character giving the other amazing sex doesn't count. It's about emotional give and take. An emotional vampire can give someone all the sex in the world, but still leave that person emotionally drained.) Watching a story try to play up a fundamentally unhealthy relationship as some kind of great thing can range from frustrating to rage-inducing.
And a few other odds and ends...
Could you describe your character as being "born to love" another character, or is your character primarily defined by love/loyalty to that character? If so, you most probably have a poorly-developed/two-dimensional character and/or you're mistaking infatuation for love.
For reasons explored in Why "Purity" Is An Overrated Character Trait, the "purity" of a character or that character's intentions have very little bearing on whether that character would be a good friend or lover for someone else - even with "pure" intentions, someone could still act in bothersome or even harmful ways.Remember, common interests draw people together when they let them have a good time and/or make progress on things that are important to the both of them together. Liking the same or similar music as another character isn't worth much if they aren't going have fun listening to, dancing to, or discussing music together. Sharing an interest in reading isn't going to do any them any good if they aren't both going to enjoy talking about what they're reading with each other.
If you're starting a story with characters who are supposed to be close already, make sure you show them acting like people who are close. Things you can do to achieve this include having them doing favors for each other, being comfortable being in each other's personal spaces (IE, a bedroom, private office, or just standing next to each other), finding each other funny, being silly or frivolous around each other, being visibly happy to be around each other, saying nice things about each other and to each other, being appropriately affectionate with each other, having passionate discussions about common interests, having arguments and disagreements that end peacefully rather than with one or both huffing off angrily, and/or being able to negotiate and make compromises without treating it like a competition for dominance.
So, to recap...
- Don't gloss over relationships' development and progression in one or two sentences - show it happen in detail.
- Don't have a long-running major character develop a new relationship out of nowhere or overnight - ease it in and build it up over time.
- Be careful that you don't inadvertently create an emotional vampire - in this case, a character who is all take and no give emotionally - as a good friend or love interest.
- Characters who can be defined by their love or loyalty to someone else are most likely two-dimensional characters.
- "Purity" doesn't necessarily make your character a good match for someone.
- Common interests only count when they let characters have a good time together.
- If they're supposed to be close at the start of the story, make sure they act like it.
If you liked this, you might also be interested in:
Basic Tips To Write Healthy Relationships
Tips to Write & Roleplay Believable Successful Long-Term Relationships
More Tips For Portraying Believable, Functional, & Healthy Relationships
Tips For Writing Fanfiction With An OC Protagonist
"How Your Pairing Met" Generator
Plot Punter - Romance Edition