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ServiceScape Incorporated
ServiceScape Incorporated

Writing Believable Character Relationships

Let's face it: Relationships are stressful, and I'm not just talking about one specific type of relationship. No, all relationships are stressful, whether they be friendly, romantic, or familiar. Relationships take time and effort to build, and conflict is inevitable. So, why do we try so hard to build meaningful, genuine connections with others? We do this because relationships are meaningful and fulfilling. Think about it like this: Have you ever done something completely on your own, without the help of friends, family, colleagues, or peers? Odds are, your answer is no, even if you think it might be yes. This is because you cannot survive on your own.

Similarly, one character cannot sustain an entire story on their own. Take Robinson Crusoe, for example. Although Crusoe is deserted on an island by himself, he is never truly alone. Instead, he makes companions out of the animals around him, creating hierarchical relationships with them to speak to his greater desire for power and control. If Crusoe can't truly survive on his own, then your characters surely can't, either.

So, how do you write believable, genuine character relationships? Maybe you want to focus on family and friends, or you want your romantic relationship to be the central focus of your story. Either way, you're going to have to take some things into consideration when crafting these relationships. Now, let's jump right into a relationship (but not literally, that's not realistic)!

Relationship Status

Who doesn't love updating their relationship status on social media platforms for all to see? Just us? Just kidding! When we talk about relationship status, we aren't really talking about whether or not your characters are single, in a relationship, or married. While this is an important factor to consider when crafting your characters, what we mean by relationship status is what kind of literal relationship your characters have. Let's explore some of the most common relationships you'll come across while reading and some things you should consider while you're writing your own character relationships.


family of four reading a book
Family dynamics are often intimately explored in stories. Photo from Halfpoint.

Family is at the core of who we are, whether we are close with our family or not. Family relationships can be parent/child relationships, sibling relationships, or extended family relationships. Other possibilities can include the idea of the found family versus the biological family. This is a popular topic in much of today's young adult literature. Here are some questions you might ask yourself as you build a family relationship:

  • What kinds of relationships does your protagonist have with their family members? Are they close, neutral, or distant? Are your protagonist's parents divorced? This can add many layers to relationships between parents and children and even between siblings.
  • Speaking of siblings, does your protagonist have siblings, or are they an only child? If they do have siblings, are they close? Is there a big age gap or a small one?
  • This one is a little more complex, but are there any family secrets? Perhaps your protagonist knows something that nobody else does, or maybe they are trying to uncover a family secret. Family secrets can add tons of layers to relationship dynamics between characters, especially when one character knows something that another does not.


friends laughing at the beach
Friendships are the main focus on many young adult stories, in particular. Photo from Djile.

Friends, right next to lovers, is probably the most popular relationship status we see in books. This is because friendships are primary sources of happiness, heartbreak, and growth. We start seeking out friends at a very early age, and we never quite stop, always craving that close bond. Some questions to consider about friendships include:

  • What kinds of friends are your characters? Are they best friends, school friends, long-distance friends, or friends by association? These are only some of the friendship statuses available, so don't limit yourself to just our suggestions.
  • How did your friends meet? Perhaps they met on the playground during recess at school, or perhaps they met at summer camp. Either way, this is an important question to consider when you develop a backstory for your friendships.
  • How involved are the friends in each other's lives? This may seem like a strange question, but your answer will determine the extent to which any one character will be involved in particular plot points. It's unlikely that a school friend will be as heavily involved in the personal life of the protagonist as the protagonist's best friend.


a couple looking at the water
Romantic relationships can be the focus of a story or an underlying factor in a plot. Photo from

Don't you just love love? We sure do and, apparently, so do most people! Romantic stories have always been popular, and the genre only continues to expand and grow in popularity. Despite their popularity, romantic relationships can actually be quite tricky to write, especially in you want to create a genuine, believable romantic relationship between characters. Here are some questions to ask yourself about romantic relationships while you write:

  • What type of romance trope are you following, if any? Some common and popular romance tropes include friends-to-lovers, enemies-to-lovers, and strangers-to-lovers. There's plenty more where that came from, but establishing a relationship dynamic is essential to the plot.
  • How did the characters meet? This will be heavily informed by the dynamic you choose for your lovers, but it's important, nonetheless, because it will also inform factors like the age of your characters and the setting of the story.
  • How long have your lovers been together? Again, your answer to this question will inform plot points like setting and small-scale or large-scale conflicts. We will get more into conflict later, but be sure to keep this in your mind.


knights in battle
Enemy relationships are popular to explore because they can evolve into friendships or even romances. Photo from zef art.

Ah yes, a good old enemies dynamic. If there's one thing people love more than love, it's hate. Enemy relationships allow you to explore complicated plots and emotions you otherwise may not. Here are some questions to keep in mind when creating an enemy dynamic between two characters:

  • Why are the characters enemies? This may seem like the most obvious question, but it's also the most important one. Intention is everything in relationships, especially in ones that are emotionally charged.
  • How long have they been enemies? A decades-long enemy relationship will have more backstory and larger conflicts than a recently-formed enemy relationship.
  • Is there any hope for the characters to reconcile? Sometimes, we get an enemy redemption story, and the characters actually end up becoming friends (or lovers!), but other times the feelings of hatred just run too deep for any other kind of relationship.

Your answer to these questions will determine dialogue and actions shared between your characters, inform plot, and help you build genuine, realistic relationships between your characters. Speaking of building those relationships, let's discuss some major factors to consider in the construction process.

Building Blocks

Establish background

Creating background for your characters is no easy feat, especially when you're considering how that background feeds into the relationship dynamic. After all, there's more to establishing background than just setting. While time and place are important, there are some other things that you need to consider to build a believable relationship.

You'll want to consider what kind of relationship the characters have. Sure, your characters are in a romantic relationship, but what kind of romantic relationship? Romantic relationships can be lustful, innocent, or even toxic. You should choose one or two types of romance and establish background and conflict surrounding that. A toxic relationship might have some heavy background whereas a lustful relationship could lack depth elsewhere. Any relationship can have a positive or negative influence on your characters, so think about if you want them to suffer or succeed in those relationships.

This could lead to tension throughout your story, if done correctly. If two of your characters are enemies, then we want to know what made them dislike each other so much. There has to be some story revealed at some point in the plot, or else the readers will get bored of a seemingly unnecessary rivalry.

One the contrary, maybe your characters have an ambiguous relationship, so the background is kind of purposely murky there. For example, let's consider the enemy relationship in this light. It's easy to say two characters hate each other, but it always begs the question: Do they really hate each other, or is there something hidden beneath this hatred? Feelings of jealousy, confusion, or annoyance could all be underlying an otherwise obvious emotion.

What we're trying to say is that feelings are complicated. Your background should help illuminate why it is that any two (sometimes more!) characters feel a particular way about each other. To do this, you should use a healthy balance of dialogue and actions. Instead of stating how much a character feels for another, try showing that through actions.

Take your time

Any relationship requires time and effort from all parties involved. Your writing should reflect this. You should take your time in building up to a relationship or in breaking apart a relationship. Building up to a breakup, reconciliation, friend heartbreak, and other dynamics will add chemistry and genuineness to your relationships. Your readers will be able to understand the wait because they have experienced them themselves. Just like your plot and your characters, your relationships should have an arc to follow throughout the story.

Romantic relationships are a prime suspect of breaking the laws of time. Although fun to write, we would argue romantic relationships require special care and attention. You should avoid instant romances at all costs. These types of relationships typically lack depth and conflict that make up much of the story. Likewise, they can be a bit cliché. Phrases like, "I feel like I'd known him my whole life" are overused and kind of cringey. While this may be true, phrase like this make it seem like you're compensating for the quick, sudden romance.


You should weigh (Ha, get it? Weigh, scale…) the impact of your relationships. What we mean by this is your relationships will face differing levels of conflict and emotion depending on the severity of their relationship.

For example, schoolyard rivals will have much lower level of hatred towards each other than, say, mortal enemies. Likewise, a breakup will most likely be more heartbreaking for a long-term relationship than a short fling, depending on the characters, of course. You should take care not to be dramatic with your relationships, but don't underscore a relationship dynamic, either.


a woman walking away from her boyfriend
Breakups are a source of potential conflict in many romance stories. Photo from Antonioguillem.

One of the key features to building any relationship is considering power dynamics. Whether we immediately notice it or not, characters are constantly in power struggles. Who holds the power in a relationship, and when is this power evident? Consider how a parent is typically more powerful than the child or how one partner is typically more powerful than their counterpart. Enemies may be enemies because of an imbalance of power. Keeping this in mind, you should build up to a conflict that challenges the relationship.

As much as we would love for all relationships to be smooth sailing, this is incredibly unrealistic. We doubt you've never had an argument with your mother, a disagreement with your bestie, or a dispute with your significant other. You just have to consider what it is that's causing the conflict. The conflict should provide some kind of turning point for your protagonist. Maybe your protagonist realizes her boyfriend has completely different goals for his future, and she doesn't see herself in it. Or, perhaps your protagonist and best friend disagree about the best course of action to take in a survival story. This is why we encourage you to weigh the impact of your relationship, so your conflicts match the scale of your relationships.

You may also consider how previous/past relationships influence and shape current relationships. This is why we began by asking you all those questions in the beginning. A protagonist's reaction to one type of relationship may be heavily influenced by their experience with another relationship. For example, your protagonist may struggle with commitment in a romantic relationship because they watched their parents get divorced. One relationship dynamic directly influenced another.

Real relationships change

Remember when we said that no relationship is perfect? That's because we meant exactly what we said. No relationship stays the exact same over time. That would require that characters remain static which is the exact opposite of how you want your characters. Static characters are boring, like watching and listening to static on an old TV. Boring, right?

Instead, you want your relationships to be just like your characters: dynamic. Since your relationship is going to consist of dynamic characters, that means the relationships should change as the characters change. A character's interests, morals, and beliefs can and will change throughout the course of a story. If your protagonist's morals develop to exclude something that their friend or significant other still believes in, then it is unlikely the relationship will remain the same.

Another key factor to remember is every character is the main character in their own story. The intentions of every character aren't always immediately easy for us to recognize. Characters will likely think of themselves first, making them appear a certain way to the reader, but it is your job as the writer to use these subtle changes in a character's disposition to advance the story, either through fixing or complicating a relationship.

Believe us yet?

Regardless of what relationship dynamic you choose to write, you should always strive to be realistic. This may require you to draw on your own relationship experience. This may seem cringey or uncomfortable for you, but it may just be the best way for you to write believable relationships because, hey, if you lived it, odds are someone else did too…right? Maybe not, but a believable relationship is one you believe can exist in real life.

Header photo by Mediteraneo.

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