17 April 2011

Building believeble relationships between characters in fiction

Conflict between your characters is the essence of every romance story. It drives the story forward and characters apart. Although it doesn't stop your hero and heroine from failing in love with each other, it stops them from falling into each other's arms in Chapter one.

Conflict comes from your characters' character. It's about what they care about, strive for, what they're scared of. What is at stake in the conflict, as Kate Walker in her '12 point guide to writing romance' writes, has to be important enough for your characters to be worth arguing over and even taking the risk to lose the love of their life. And when, in attempts to create really powerful tension (conflict), you give your characters opposing goals and strong motivation to achieve them, after all that effort to keep your hero and heroine apart, it may be hard to make them fall into each other's arms in the last Chapter.

Happily ever after is as much the essence of romantic fiction as conflict. And although nowadays a romantic novel does not have to end with wedding bells ringing, we, as romance writers, need to give our readers enough to believe that hero and heroine's relationship will last until their golden anniversary, or at least as long as we can think of. To achieve a satisfying ending, there has to be enough attraction between your characters throughout the story. There needs to be a balance the push of conflict with the pull of love.

So how can we build a relationship that will last, at least on paper? What are the keys to a successful relationship, beside the most obvious sexual attraction?

Photo by graur razvan ionut
at www.freedigitalphotos.net

1. Good communication - happy couples exchange ideas, feelings, news, beliefs, problems in a polite, respectful and appreciative manner. Even when you have to have your H/H arguing and or misunderstanding  each other show that they listen, communicate, understand and be understood in other areas. E.g. in medical romance H&H can have problems in communicating on private level, but they do it much better when they work together.

2. Constructive resolution of conflict - when criticising, happy couples don't generalise ('You always do this', or 'You never say that'); they attack the problem not the person, they don't withdraw from the interaction. even when you characters disagree over something, show them being able to see solutions in a constructive manner.

3. Shared values and beliefs- happy couples share values and spiritual beliefs. Show your H&H being passionate about the same issues, e.g. greener living, civil rights, their faith. Successful couples agree that they want to pursue the same life paths, values and goals and mutually commit to it, whether it's about having or not children, saving or spending money, travelling or settling down.
4. Sharing and similarities - maybe opposites attract but it's similarites that keep people together. Give your hero and heroine things to do together - a shared hobby, a passions for dancing or love of early swim in the sea, and let them spend quality time together, outside the daily routine of household chores and work

5. Ability to understand each other motives. Give them opportunities and skills to understand each other's motives. When your hero or heroine is feeling angry, hurt or betrayed because of something the other one has said or done, at some point show them taking a moment for quiet reflection to try to understand why the other one has said or done what they did. This way, you make sure that when they finally fall in each other arms, their understanding of the other person and their forgiveness is genuine.

6. Humour. Let them share a sense of humour - it's not only one of things they share, but also a fantastic tool to deal with difficult moments in life.

7. Mutual admiration and respect. Let them admire and respect each other - again to use medical romance as an example, even when they are still not able to see enough qualities on the personal level, H&H often admire and respect each other for who they are professionally.

8. Give them ability to deal with crisis, stress and frustration - it will come handy in the future (after the Happily Ever After)

9. Show that each of them is capable of being empathic, sensitive, selfless and honest; equip them with fidelity, adaptability and tolerance- in other words: give them what it takes to live with another person in such intimate closeness for a long time.

More about qualities of successful couple here and here.

And what do you do to make sure that the Happily Ever After is possible despite all the differences, personality clashes and arguments you have thrown at you hero and heroine throughtout your story?

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