Building relationships between your characters is a vital part of writing romance – or any genre of fiction in fact. How two people relate to one another really matters, and it will be what keeps readers reading.
You only have to watch dramas on television to realise that people are hooked by characters’ behaviour, whether they are falling in love, killing one another – or any shade of emotion in between. That spark between two characters is what keeps people tuning into their favourite drama – or reading books by their favourite authors.
If you can’t find a way of creating an atmosphere and emotion between the two key characters involved in your story, then you’re not going to convince anyone that they are falling in love; or that they despise one another. You may tell the reader that’s how they are feeling. In fact, you can say it over and over again, but unless you show it, and prove it, you will never fool the reader into believing in the story.
So how do you ignite that spark, make it flare and continue to smoulder and burn?
I tend to think that firstly you need to create two believable characters. Make them fully rounded individuals with strong opinions and beliefs. Let them have their own goals in life and their own ambitions.
I’m not saying that the character has to be a go-getter, or a powerful businessman or woman. An elderly granny could be just as determined – for example, not to have her routine messed about with. It’s cocoa at 9pm, lights out by ten. So, when granddad takes up ballroom dancing, sparks are sure to fly.
So, let your characters have goals in their lives. And what they are fighting for really does need to matter. As you know, conflict is vital to any story. Without conflict you don’t have a story. So why not help your story along by giving your two main characters traits that are likely to clash at some point; or the opposite, are likely to bind them together eventually.
For example, two people who might clash could be:
Those who always think they are right.
Those who can never say sorry.
Those who always like to have the last word.
Those who are very argumentative.
Two stubborn people.
And for those who might bond together, could:
Both have similar deep-rooted dreams.
Have similar interests.
Have shared similar experiences.
Or they are so opposite that eventually they attract (but it’s up to the writer to make that work!)
In fact, everything depends on the writer getting it right.
You would think that soaps like Eastenders and Coronation Street would get it right,
but time after time you see married partners who were so lovey-dovey the week
before, now battling it out with real venom and hatred. Personally, I think that is
totally unbelievable, because two people who love each other and then have an
almighty fall out perhaps because of betrayal, will also be terribly hurt, and that hurt
and vulnerability should come across as they shout at each other. Very often, TV
dramas make it too black and white.
As writers, it’s actually a little easier for us to get across emotional scenes in stories
rather than on screen because we can say what’s going on in the character’s mind.
And that is where the writer can win the reader over – by letting them in on how the
character is really feeling. But remember don’t tell the reader their heart is breaking,
show it in physical ways by their actions, words and thoughts.
You might want to have your characters behaving in a contradictory way. They want
to hide their true feelings, so they put on an outward show. But remember to reveal
their most intimate thoughts and feelings to the reader if you want to gain their
To make that relationship grow – or disintegrate, you need to have your characters
together in scenes. And when they can’t be together, then make sure their thoughts are
constantly on that other person.
If they are apart and the story must continue with action that doesn’t involve the other
person, then drop in little reminders which bring that other person to mind. For
example if your main character is a soldier, away at war. Let the reader be reminded
perhaps by letters; or maybe she’s packed something poignant away in his kit bag; or
let her be his last thought as the bullets fly.
Let your characters talk to one another, and when they talk, let the words be
meaningful. You only have a certain number of words to get across the fact that they
love/hate each other, so make sure this comes across in their dialogue. Don’t waste a
good opportunity to get a meaningful message across.
Use the senses as you write. Let the reader live every moment through that key
character’s head and heart. Don’t tell when you can show.
Body language is another useful tool for you to show how characters are feeling. They
say actions speak louder than words, so be sure your narrative as you describe what
your characters are doing, is there for good reason.
For example: What do these gestures say to you?
- Her hand lingered on his shoulder as she walked past his chair.
- She looked up at him from beneath her eyelashes.
- Her toe tapped out a rhythm as she listened.
- His left eyebrow arched but he said nothing.
Top Tips on Building Relationships
- For a story to be worth reading there must be conflict. Without conflict there is no story. However, the last thing you want is to write a story where two people are continually at each other’s throats, arguing and seeming to hate each other, only to reveal in the last chapter that they actually loved one another all along. No one will believe that.
- Emotion is the key element in any story. In a love story, you need to touch the reader’s hearts – and break their hearts as the conflict grows and the couple seem destined never to be together.
- Emotion isn’t just for love stories. Thrillers, ghost stories, horror, adventure – they must all conjure up emotion. Your characters need to feel a variety of emotions: sadness, fear, excitement, anger, hatred etc. It is the writer’s job to convey those emotions to the reader.
- To do that, you must believe in your characters. If you are writing tongue in cheek, no one is going to be fooled. Readers will see through this and they won’t care about your characters. So, believe in your characters. If you don’t no-one else will either.
- Write from the heart. Get under the skins of your characters and feel what they feel. Experience all the emotions that they experience and convey these emotions to the reader through your words.
- You may have a plot in mind, but try not to make your characters fit too rigidly into that plot or the story may seem contrived. Let the conflict arise from the character’s personalities rather than setting out contrived obstacles for them to deal with.
- Make your conflict really matter. Don’t have something trivial at stake. Make it important to your character – something worth fighting for. Let the conflict be complex, so that as you pace your story and work through one problem, there is another one waiting in the wings.
- Allow them to have broken, unfinished sentences. Your character’s words and thoughts don’t have to be neat and logical. The opposite will convey the mood better.
- Allow your character to change and grow, let feelings arise and develop. Increase the pace and the intensity of emotion as the story progresses. Be aware of your character’s mood in every scene you write. Keep true to them.
- Add to the emotion by using powerful verbs. If he wants to slam his fist down on the table, let him slam it. Use colour and texture in your descriptions. And remember to use all your senses. Bring out the emotion in a scene by relating what your characters can see, feel, hear, smell and taste.
- Let your characters get to know one another. Let them interact with each other. Let them react to one another. And let their relationship develop.
Happy writing and stay safe everyone.
Ann Evans writes romance under the name of Ann Carroll, she also writes thrillers, books for children, YA and reluctant readers and has around 40 books to her name. She is also a freelance feature writer for various magazines.
Read more writing tips in Ann’s book, Become a Writer – A step by Step Guide. Available as a paperback and as an ebook. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Become-Writer-Step-Step-Guide/dp/1652910980