Premium Deep Dive: Writing Relationships

Doug Landsborough
May 15, 2024

Few things are as compelling, defining, and important to your writing as the relationships your characters have.

I know that’s one heck of a statement, but it’s true—and something many authors must learn the hard way.

Too many people think relationships are only relevant in romance and the genres it overlaps with (I’m looking at you, romantasy). But “relationships” extend to more than just romantic partners, flirting, and enemies turned lovers. You have friendships, rivalries, coaches, business partners, strangers, acquaintances, and more.

And each relationship can play a monumental role in how your character thinks, acts, speaks, and reacts to external events. No big deal, right?

In this Dabble Premium deep dive, we will dissect everything you need to know about writing relationships. That includes:

  • Understanding the different relationship types
  • Crafting believable relationship dynamics
  • Relationship arcs
  • Communication in relationships
  • Examining relationship tropes

Not only that, but each deep dive article comes with a resource for you to add to your writing toolkit, so click here to download our Relationship Arc Checklist. It will come in handy once you start writing your complex character connections.

Now join me as we figure out what makes our characters love, hate, envy, and care for one another.

The Different Types of Relationships

While this is a deep dive, I want to define something before we even talk about the different types of relationships—a term you need to understand so these various kinds of bonds make sense.

You need to understand what relationship dynamics are.

Relationship Dynamics

To put it as digestible as possible, relationship dynamics are the patterns of emotional, social, and power interactions between characters. These interactions are influenced by each character’s personal history, motivations, and psychological makeup, and they evolve as the plot progresses.

Every relationship—real and fictional—is based on the dynamics involved with it. Think about your friendships, loves, rivalries, and even the people you dislike; are there any not defined by how you interact with the other person or have interacted in the past?

The answer is no. Even relationships defined by reputation or speculation depend on dynamics.

And the same is said for every relationship your characters have.

I want you to remember this idea as you read about these different types of relationships. What do your characters' emotional, social, and power interactions look like if they have a particular bond?

A quick obligatory note: while we’re going to cover the common types of relationships you should know, there will always be niche variations of each that we can’t cover, even in this deep dive. For example, a romantic relationship can be enemies to lovers or high school sweethearts (or both!). When you want to narrow the scope like that, keep thinking about how it affects the dynamics.

Familial Relationships

Family relationships are often the first and most influential connections a character may have. They can set the stage for a character’s worldview, values, and conflicts. 

They also come in different shapes and sizes. A parent-child dynamic is perfect for exploring themes of rebellion, approval, and legacy. Sibling relationships, on the other hand, can range from supportive to competitive.

Because these relationships are so foundational, they are often massive, if not the most influential, factor in how characters behave.



Friendships in fiction highlight a character’s ability to bond outside of obligatory ties. These relationships can be nurturing, challenging, or a mixture of both, often giving characters the potential to seek security or be devastated when something negative happens in the friendship.

Whether it’s a lifelong friend, a casual acquaintance, or a frenemy, these relationships can reveal a lot about a character’s social behaviors, tastes, and personality. 

Unlike familial bonds, friendships are chosen by characters and usually shape new behaviors.

Romantic Relationships

Romance is the type of bond most people think about when they think of relationships in a story. It has the potential to drive entire plot lines.

From the initial spark to wedding bells or the complications of a love triangle, romance provides plenty of opportunities for exploring vulnerability, growth, and conflict.

How a character acts in a romantic context can tell readers much about their needs, fears, and desires. Remember, romantic ties are usually stronger than those with family or friends (even if your mom doesn’t want you to admit that). These play a huge part in determining how your characters act and what they want.

Antagonistic Relationships

Not all relationships are supportive; antagonistic dynamics are equally telling (and a ton of fun to write). 

A protagonist’s interactions with their adversary can significantly influence their development and are central to their choices. These relationships often challenge your characters, force them to confront their flaws, and test their limits.

This relationship can blur the lines with others, too: a romantic partner who is cheating, a sibling always viewed as the favorite child, or a friend vying for the same position at work are all antagonistic versions of other relationships.

On top of that, the external plot of many stories is driven by the relationship between the hero and villain. Keep all these dynamics when writing your story.

Mentor-Mentee Relationships

Finally, there are relationships in which someone is being taught by somebody else. The basis of this sort of relationship is transactional: one person gets something, often for a price or to fulfill an obligation. 

The best mentor-mentee relationships are always two-way, though. Characters who seek out help can gain new skills and wisdom while pursuing their larger goals. Conversely, mentors usually use the relationship to fill a void or work towards a goal of their own.


Cultural and Social Influences on Relationships

All of these relationships have been viewed through my own lens, which is informed by someone growing up and living in, for the most part, lower-middle-class Canada. But a familial relationship or romantic partner for me will look different than someone who lives on the other side of the world, comes from wealth or a lack of it, is religious, etc.

That said, relationships don’t exist in a vacuum. External events and situations, even other relationships, shape how bonds are formed, maintained, and broken.

When writing relationships, consider how norms, traditions, and societal expectations influence them.

Equally important, make sure you do your research, leverage sensitivity readers, and treat real-life cultures with respect if you choose to include them in your writing.

Consider Power Dynamics

One of the less-acknowledged but incredibly important dynamics in any relationship is the power dynamic. This particular element of a bond occurs in every interaction, and understanding it is essential to creating realistic, compelling scenarios.

Power imbalances can stem from social status, emotional dependence, or differences in personal agency. For example, a character who holds significant emotional or political power over another might leverage that in their relationship, even in a toxic friendship or romantic partnership, to their own ends.

Crafting Believable Relationships

Now that we know our relationship basics, it’s time to get a little more into the nitty-gritty. We understand that every bond is based on dynamics, but that’s not all there is to know.

More importantly, we need to be able to make relationship dynamics believable if we want to make the relationships themselves worth reading about.

When I say believable, I mean a realistic portrayal of behavior, choices, and emotions. This doesn’t mean it has to perfectly mimic something you or I might do in a relationship, mind you. Some fictional characters have superpowers, so their very existence affects their choices and behaviors, which in turn affects their relationships.

And, of course, substitute superpowers with insane wealth, a troubled past, missing memories, etc. 

It is challenging to make written characters believable, especially when they’re so incredible. Even experienced authors struggle with it—and you must make it work with two or more characters to craft a believable relationship!


The Foundations of Believable Relationships

When it boils down to it, believable relationships depend on how your characters act, specifically how consistent and authentic they are.

Character Consistency

One of the golden rules of writing believable relationships is consistency. This doesn’t mean your characters can’t change—on the contrary, they should evolve! But their evolution should make sense within the world you’ve built and the experiences they’ve gone through. 

Consistency in relationships means that actions, reactions, and interactions align with the characters’ established traits and backstories. This continuity helps readers build trust in your storytelling because they see a logical progression or transformation in characters based on what you have established.

Of course, that doesn’t mean your characters or relationships should be predictable. But consistent character behavior based on their history and personality helps maintain immersion and believability.

Tips for Maintaining Consistency in Characters

Character profiles - Keep detailed notes on each character’s background, traits, and previous interactions. Refer back to these notes when crafting scenes to ensure actions and reactions remain faithful to the character’s development. This is always one click away in Dabble, and you can grab a free character template here.

Feedback loops - Regularly review your characters’ arcs by yourself or with beta readers or editors who can point out inconsistencies you might have missed. Trust me, they will be there.

Emotional Authenticity

Emotional authenticity is just as important as consistency, if not even more critical. If you want a relationship to vibe with the reader, you need to write the individuals in that relationship so that their emotional responses are appropriate and proportional to the events and personalities involved.

What does that mean? It means that you understand who your character is and what they think about particular things, and they act appropriately based on that information. In a relationship, these emotionally authentic reactions will be in response to one another.

If one half of your mentor-mentee relationship is a stoic, retired professional reluctantly passing the torch, it doesn’t make sense for them to break down and weep when their student just isn’t getting it. Nor does it make sense for them to get all mushy. 

What does make sense is that they push their students to their limits but pull back because they know how to spot when someone’s physical or mental well-being is really being tested. Or maybe they have a soft spot because their student reminds them of an old student (who may or may not be the current villain).

Tips for Making Authentic Choices

Understand your characters - This is more than just writing their hair color, favorite ice cream, or knowing that one thing that happened to them no one else does. It means getting deep into their psyche, understanding their goals and motivations, and really learning how they’d react to a situation. Try some character interviews to get into the darkest corners of your character’s brain.

Emotional beats - Plan to integrate subtle cues in dialogue and action that reflect your character’s internal feelings. There’s nothing worse than explicitly stating “he was tired of having his heart broken, so he hesitated to get in a relationship.” Show it through subtle development instead. 


Testing Relationships with Conflict

At some point, every relationship will have conflict—that’s true in both fiction and real life. What that conflict is will differ. It could be jealousy over a crush, a simple misunderstanding, or an irrevocable choice with potentially lethal consequences.

At least, that’s how my friendships go.

But in fiction, conflict is what makes a story interesting. This, of course, extends to relationships. Yes, it’s possible to have a relationship or two between secondary or tertiary characters that just is. You can even have main characters have relationships that are almost entirely supportive.

You need to ask yourself why you’re including those relationships in the first place, though. We, as authors, need to be intentional about everything you include. If you aren’t including a relationship to provide opportunities for character development, why is it there?

Luckily for us, conflict between partners in the relationship allows for the development we’re looking for.

Conflict within relationships is where characters' true colors shine through, revealing secrets, insecurities, and strengths. These moments of tension force characters to confront their feelings about each other, whether those are rooted in love, rivalry, mentorship, or friendship.

Types of Conflicts in Relationships

If you need to brush up on the types of conflict—both internal and external—click on over to this article. For our purposes, we’re looking more at a relationship's struggles rather than the storytelling theory behind conflict.

As always, consider the relationship dynamics as you read about these conflicts. How would each person react? Why would they act that way? What are the consequences of their actions?

Interpersonal conflict - This stems from individual differences in personality, desires, or values. It’s the classic setup for conflicts in romantic relationships or between rivals.

Intrapersonal conflict - Often overlooked, this type of conflict occurs within a character, affecting how they interact with others. For example, a character might struggle internally with their feelings of loyalty toward a friend versus a romantic interest. This kind of conflict will bleed into their everyday lives and might catalyze further discord.

Situational conflict - External pressures or situations can strain relationships, like competing for the same goal. Alternatively, external societal and family pressures can challenge a friendship or romance and end up with two lovesick teenagers and a bottle of poison.

What any of those conflicts look like is unique to your story and characters. Unfortunately, I can’t write that for you. But I can give you some strategies to better craft these conflicts.


Developing Relationships with Conflict

Effective use of conflict in relationship development isn’t about creating drama for the sake of drama. It’s about thoughtful integration that enhances character arcs and deepens your story.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when writing relationship conflicts.

Focus on believability - Make sure the conflict is realistic compared to the existing relationship dynamics. If a friendship is built on absolute trust, betrayal will be earth-shattering. However, if a rival exploits your hero for their own gain, it wouldn’t make sense for that to cause a sudden feeling of betrayal.

Conflict can evolve relationships - Use conflict to develop relationships in meaningful ways. This means both before, during, and after a conflict. Think about how the relationship will change because of the strife (we cover relationship arcs in a bit).

Complexity and nuance - Not all conflicts have clear resolutions. Some might lead to a temporary truce, others might deepen the rift, and some could transform a relationship unexpectedly. Don’t feel like you need to wrap everything up with a pretty bow.

Navigating Conflict Resolution

How characters resolve their conflicts can play a huge role in how your readers view a relationship’s authenticity and depth. We don’t just forgive someone who hurt us, right? Nor do we set aside months or years of rivalry or disdain because someone simply said sorry.

Resolutions should reflect a character’s growth and, in some cases, the more prominent themes you’re tackling with your story. 

Ensure that the resolution of a conflict aligns with the characters’ growth trajectories. If a character is learning to stand up for themselves, a conflict might end with them asserting their needs.

On top of that, effective conflict resolution provides closure to the issue at hand while setting up future dynamics. It should feel earned and impactful, but that doesn’t mean everyone just forgets about it after going to bed for the night.

Ultimately, relationship conflict should have big stakes and only end when someone has changed (or the situation has changed) and the effects are long-lasting.

If that’s not the case, revisit the "why" behind this relationship and its conflict.

The Highs and Lows of Relationships

Before we move on to arcs, I want to point out something you’re probably already well aware of: relationships aren’t usually a smooth, easy ride. They have their highs and lows, and there’s usually some turbulence in between.

As authors, we use this turbulence to fortify the bonds between our characters or reveal cracks that might eventually lead to breaks. Here are some tips for writing the peaks and valleys of your fictional relationships.


Utilize Gradual Development

This is even the case for relationships that pre-date the start of your story. Relationships in your novel should evolve over time, with either gradual growth or degradation, and often a combination of the two.

This slow-burn approach allows for a more nuanced exploration of the characters’ emotional reactions and helps build a deeper connection with the audience.

As with everything we’re saying about relationships, make sure these changes are consistent with who the characters are )based on what you’ve established). And layer the changes piece by piece.

There’s nothing more immersion-breaking than a sudden, unfounded change.

Handle Setbacks Properly

Conflict isn’t the only catalyst for change. Misunderstandings, betrayals, and external pressures can also test the strength of relationships and lead to setbacks.

Characters should react to setbacks in ways true to their developed personalities and past experiences. You’ll discover more about your fictional people as you write them, and you should put the legwork in to understand their past and motivations before you get too deep into your story (if you want to write great relationships, that is).

Don’t be afraid to force your characters to face the consequences of these setbacks, too! I mean, that’s where the really juicy, compelling story comes from. This includes both immediate and long-term consequences.

Think About Structure, Too

While relationships are important, they’re just one aspect of a great story. While that means we have a million other things to think about while writing, it also means we can leverage the structure of our story itself to buff up these bonds.

First, pay attention to the balance between pacing and the relationship. Neither should completely overpower the other, so try to be critical about whether you’re devoting too much time to a relationship arc or only mentioning it every seven chapters.

At the same time, give them their own subplots! Realistically, any relationship that experiences change needs its own subplot. We call these relationship arcs, and we’re talking about that next.

Writing Relationship Arcs

When they hear the word “arc,” most people think about the changes characters go through over the course of a story. And they wouldn’t be wrong; character arcs are essential to a good story.

But, as we’ve established, relationships undergo changes, too. While we need to consider how characters act based on their personalities, we also want to ensure that the relationship’s arc makes sense.

A relationship arc charts the journey of a relationship throughout your story, and there are a variety of relationship arcs you can explore and use in your books. Here are the important ones.

The Growing Bond Arc

This arc tells the story of characters who begin as strangers or even adversaries but gradually build a strong bond. It’s the essence of the enemies-to-friends or enemies-to-lovers trope, which are all-time favorites for people. 

Their relationship grows due to shared experiences, mutual respect, and growing trust—think Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy.

The Deteriorating Bond Arc

In contrast, the deteriorating bond arc follows a relationship’s decline. This could be due to betrayals, changing personal values, or external forces. 

Breaking bond arcs can be poignant and dramatic, providing ample space for emotional conflict. This happened to Frodo and Sam in The Lord of the Rings when they fell out. Yes, I know things get better, but there was some time when Frodo was being a real jerk to Sam (at least in the movies… don’t attack me, Tolkien readers).


The Redemption Arc

The redemption arc (not the same as a character redemption arc) is a powerful relationship trajectory wherein one character helps bring about a positive change in another. This arc can humanize flawed characters and showcase the transformative power of relationships. 

A classic example is the evolving relationship between the Beast and Belle in Beauty and the Beast, despite how weird I think the whole thing is.

The Sacrificial Arc

This arc involves characters making significant sacrifices for each other, reinforcing the depth of their bond. It underscores themes like love, friendship, and selflessness. 

Tony Stark’s sacrifice in Avengers: Endgame is a powerful climax to his relationship arc with the rest of the Avengers.

The Love Triangle Arc

I call this the “love triangle” because we most commonly see this kind of relationship arc in romantic situations, but it can be applied to friendships and even multiple apprentices under one mentor. 

A classic love triangle occurs when a character has two potential romantic partners, and their indecision or conflict forms the crux of the story. Each relationship in the triangle follows its arc, offering the tip of the triangle two very compelling options.

Love triangles give you so much space to write about the different conflicts between each part of the triangle.

The Twilight series offers a well-known example of a love triangle between Bella, Edward, and Jacob. And seriously, who doesn’t know about that particular geometric romance?

Integrating Relationship Arcs with the Plot

To make relationships feel genuine and help your story, you should tie them into your plot. 

“But Doug,” I hear you cry, “I’m not writing a romance novel!”

I hope you haven’t read this far and haven’t noticed that all novels are full of relationships, and not all of them are romantic. If you have two or more characters in your novel (and I’m confident 99% of people reading this do), you need to consider how the relationship’s arc and your story play together.

There are three different ways you can do that:

Parallel to the Plot

You can craft the relationship arc so that it follows the same trajectory as the main plot. When the plot reaches its climax, so does the relationship, perhaps through a critical revelation or a significant conflict.


Contrary to the Plot

Alternatively, the relationship arc can contrast with the main plot, providing counterpoints or raising the stakes. 

Think of it this way: maybe the two protagonists (who are obviously in love) get a slight break from the world-ending disaster they’re surviving. But, as all seems calm for a moment, a revelation about their relationship is dropped that shatters the peace.

Writing your relationship arcs contrary to the plot can add tension in ways that don’t involve beating your reader over the head with non-stop action or plot hurdles.

Driving the Plot

Finally, in some stories, the relationship arc is the plot. The progression of the relationship, the characters’ feelings for each other, and their conflicts and resolutions are all central to the story.

Communication in Relationships

At the risk of speaking outside my expertise (which is writing, not marriage counseling), communication is the most crucial part of a relationship. While backstory and motivation will inform how a character acts within a relationship, their communication dictates how they express that and how they are received by the other person or people.

Communication in fiction encompasses dialogue and non-verbal interactions, both of which are crucial tools for depicting relationships. Effective dialogue and interactions not only reveal the intricacies of relationships but also deepen the reader’s understanding of the characters involved.

So, if you can master communication, your relationships will be much more enjoyable (or devastating) to read.

Establish Distinct Character Voices

Before you can write high-quality communication in a relationship, you need to make sure your characters have distinct, memorable voices.

I know the whole “each character in a relationship needs to be well-written” is getting old at this point. But if there’s anything you can take away from this deep dive, it’s that compelling relationships don’t exist without compelling characters.

Tailoring dialogue to reflect individual characters’ personalities and the nature of their relationships is essential. Each character should have a distinct voice reflecting their background, personality, and emotional state.

You should bookmark this guide to character voice, but, in the meantime, focus on varied speech patterns, vocabularies, and rhythms to differentiate characters.

Character voices can change slightly, especially depending on their relationships. A gruff drill sergeant might have a soft spot for the kids at the orphanage they volunteer at on weekends but scream at the new recruits under their guidance.

You can adjust the formality, tone, and word choice your character uses based on their relationships to show the reader more about that bond.

Subtext in Dialogue

Subtext involves underlying messages or emotions that a character does not explicitly state but that the reader (and potentially other characters) understands. It is a powerful tool for revealing underlying tensions, secrets, or true emotions that characters may not openly express.

In relationships, subtext can be used to create conflict or, depending on how close the people are, share information without directly saying it.

To this end, subtext can show how intimate a relationship is or push it closer to breaking through jealousy or resentment.


Non-Verbal Communication

What a character doesn’t say can speak volumes. I always quote the fact that 55% of communication is non-verbal, but it’s a lot harder to express that when you can’t see someone.

Still, non-verbal communication is influenced by and influences relationships in stories. Here are some ways you can integrate it into yours.

Body Language and Physical Actions

Body language is one of the most expressive forms of non-verbal communication. It includes facial expressions, gestures, posture, and even how characters move within a scene. 

Each can reveal the underlying emotions and attitudes of a character and the impact of their relationships. Think about how your characters will use body language and actions in their relationships and how that can set your bonds apart.

Facial expressions - A character’s emotions can often be read through their facial expressions. A furrowed brow may indicate worry or concentration, while a quick smile might hide nervousness or deceit.

Gestures - Gestures can convey a range of emotions and responses. A character might drum their fingers when impatient or anxious or cross their arms as a barrier when feeling defensive. 

Posture and stance - How characters carry themselves tells us a lot about their self-perception and emotional state. A character with slumped shoulders and a downward gaze might feel defeated or sorrowful, while an upright posture might reflect confidence or readiness to confront a challenge.

Physical Touch

Touch is a powerful communicator of a relationship’s nature. How characters interact through touch can convey comfort, control, affection, or hostility.

Types of touch - A gentle pat on the back can show support, while a firm grip might be controlling or protective. The context of these touches can further define the relationship, like a consoling hug in a moment of grief or a forceful grab during a heated argument.

Reactions to touch - How characters react to touch can also provide insight into their relationships and emotional states. A character might flinch at a touch due to past trauma, or they might lean into a hug to show trust and comfort with the other character.


Proximity and Orientation

Where and how a character positions themselves in relation to others is a great visual cue for their relationship with that person. 

Personal space - Characters who allow others into their personal space or enter someone else’s space demonstrate an immediately recognizable level of intimacy or comfort. In contrast, maintaining distance might show formality, discomfort, or hostility.

Facing each other - Characters facing each other directly during a conversation suggests openness and engagement, while an angled or averted body position might indicate distraction, disinterest, or avoidance.

Relationship Tropes We Love

Finally, I want to touch on some common tropes in relationships. Many of these will be romance tropes, but I’ve mixed in some non-romantic relationships that people know and love.

Some folks think tropes are bad, but they’re valuable tools for authors. Using them as a foundation and putting your own spin on them (with your characters, plot, setting, and more), you can attract readers who love these tropes while writing something original.

Enemies to Lovers

One of the most thrilling and satisfying arcs to explore is the transition from animosity to affection. This trope involves two characters who start as adversaries and gradually develop romantic feelings for each other. 

The appeal lies in the tension that, bit by bit, gets worn away by affection.

Example in Action: Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice epitomize this trope, starting with prejudiced disdain and moving towards love, enriched by self-discovery and personal growth.

Friends to Lovers

Here, characters start as friends, with a foundation of trust and camaraderie already in place, and evolve into romantic partners. This trope is cherished for its depiction of deep emotional connections evolving into romantic love, often marked by a significant moment of realization or confession.

Example in Action: Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger gradually move from platonic friendship to romantic involvement, and we were all there for it.

The Odd Couple

Contrasting personalities can lead to compelling dynamics, and the odd couple trope exploits this by pairing two very different characters. The conflict and comedy that arise from their interactions provide entertainment and opportunities for mutual character development.

Example in Action: The pairing of tidy, rule-following Monica Geller with the laid-back, messy Chandler Bing in Friends shows how opposites can indeed attract and complement each other.


Fake Relationships

In this trope, characters pretend to be in a relationship for mutual benefit, developing genuine feelings between them. 

This trope plays with the tension between reality and pretense, often culminating in characters confessing true feelings once the facade becomes too challenging to maintain.

Example in Action: In To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, Lara Jean and Peter start a fake relationship to make their respective love interests jealous but gradually develop actual feelings for each other.

Star-Crossed Lovers

Drawing from the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, this trope features lovers whose relationship is doomed by external forces, like feuding families or societal constraints.

The whole point is to show us lowly humans struggling against fate or the rest of the world.

Example in Action: In The Hunger Games, Katniss and Peeta face external pressures from the dystopian society that seeks to control and manipulate their relationship. Eventually, they use this pressure to exploit the Games themselves.

The Protector and the Protected

This trope involves one character who consistently shields another from harm, whether physical, emotional, or social. This dynamic often leads to a deepening of trust and affection and a strong bond that can evolve into love or a profound friendship.

Example in Action: In The Bodyguard, Frank Farmer is initially just protecting superstar Rachel Marron, but their relationship evolves into a complex mix of personal care and emotional connection.

Unrequited Love

A classic source of emotional conflict is unrequited love, where one character’s feelings are not reciprocated by the other. 

This trope can lead to heartbreak but also significant personal growth and sometimes an eventual realization of love returned. Just don’t paint one person as the Nice Guy and make them all creepy. Or do exactly that if that’s what you’re aiming for.

Example in Action: In Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, Pip’s lifelong love for Estella drives his life, influencing his decisions and his journey towards maturity despite the pain of her indifference.

The Reunion

Characters who were once close but separated by time or circumstance reunite, leading to a rekindling of their relationship. 

This trope explores themes of nostalgia, forgiveness, and the enduring nature of genuine connections.

Example in Action: I want to point to a literary masterpiece, but I can’t help but mention the movie Tag, where a group of friends convene every year for a game of tag that involves breaking into homes and hilarity.


Forbidden Love

This trope involves a relationship that is forbidden due to cultural, societal, or familial rules, adding danger and the allure of the forbidden to the romance.

Example in Action: The relationship between Ahsoka and Lux in Star Wars: The Clone Wars exemplifies forbidden love, as they come from opposing sides of a galactic conflict.

Marriage of Convenience

People who love this trope love this trope.

Here, two characters enter into a marriage or partnership for practical or social reasons rather than romantic ones. Over time, this arrangement can lead to genuine love and partnership as they learn to live together and appreciate each other’s qualities.

Example in Action: In Outlander, Claire and Jamie marry to protect Claire from other interests, but their marriage of convenience quickly develops into a deep, genuine love and partnership that defies time and trial.

Healing Together

Characters who have suffered trauma or loss find solace and healing in each other’s company. 

This trope explores the therapeutic power of relationships in overcoming personal demons and past pains.

Example in Action: In The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (get the tissues ready), Hazel and Augustus, both dealing with cancer, find joy and understanding in each other while providing mutual support and a deep emotional connection that helps them face their diagnosis.

The Mentor and Apprentice

This classic trope involves a more experienced character guiding a less experienced one. The dynamic can foster growth and impart wisdom, but it can sometimes lead to conflict when the apprentice outgrows the mentor or the two come into ideological conflict.

Example in Action: In The Karate Kid, Mr. Miyagi mentors Daniel LaRusso, not only in karate but also in essential life lessons to shape his growth and maturity.

The Rivalry

Rivals push each other to excel through competition. This trope can be friendly or hostile and often serves to drive character development and plot advancement.

Example in Action: In Sherlock, Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty represent intellectual rivals whose battle of wits is a recurring conflict that pushes each to their limits. Or look at any Pokémon game.

The Found Family

Often found in stories with ensemble casts, the found family trope involves unrelated characters who come together and form bonds as strong as those of a biological family. 

This trope emphasizes support, loyalty, and the idea that family is more than blood relations.

Example in Action: In The Guardians of the Galaxy, a diverse group of intergalactic misfits forms a close-knit team that becomes a family, facing various threats together and overcoming past trauma.

The Protectorate

This trope centers on a character who becomes the protector of another, often younger or less experienced, which can be due to a promise, sense of duty, or affection. The relationship dynamics explore themes of guardianship, sacrifice, and responsibility.

Example in Action: In Logan (which is dark and gory but incredibly well done), the relationship between Logan (Wolverine) and Laura (X-23) revolves around his reluctant protection of her, which grows into a deeper paternal bond.


The Brotherhood in Arms

Common in military and war stories, this trope explores the deep bond formed between soldiers or warriors who fight side by side. It highlights themes of loyalty, brotherhood, and the psychological impacts of warfare.

Consider other forms of warriors (first responders, kids on the playground facing bullies, etc.) for this trope, too.

Example in Action: In Band of Brothers, the soldiers of Easy Company form a tight-knit group with deep connections and mutual reliance that develop through their shared experiences in WWII.

The Brain and the Brawn

This trope teams up characters with contrasting abilities—often one who is physically strong but less tactical and another who is intellectually gifted but physically weaker. Their partnership allows each to cover the other’s weaknesses, often leading to mutual respect and growth.

Example in Action: In Lethal Weapon, Martin Riggs (the brawn) and Roger Murtaugh (the brain) create a dynamic and effective partnership that evolves into a deep friendship.

The Unlikely Friendship

Characters from very different backgrounds or with contrasting personalities form a friendship. 

This trope explores how diversity enriches relationships and encourages characters to see beyond their initial prejudices or differences.

Example in Action: In The Intouchables, the bond that forms between Philippe, a wealthy quadriplegic man, and Driss, his caretaker from a different socio-economic background, shows how friendship can cross cultural and class boundaries.

Build or Break Those Bonds

If you’ve made it this far, you’ve read over 6,000 words of juicy relationship goodness.

But there’s one thing I want to emphasize before you go. I hope you’ve taken this guiding principle from this deep dive: relationships are excellent tools to make your story great, but they are nothing without fantastic characters.

Relationship dynamics, conflict, growth and decline, and basically everything that goes into creating a good literary relationship boils down to the folks involved. The unique elements they bring to the relationship will be what makes the bond memorable.

You can’t make solid relationships without solid characters. But it also takes everything we’ve discussed today to create those solid relationships once you have a foundation of nuanced, complex characters.

I don’t want to end this deep dive by telling you it’s hard work because you already know writing a book isn’t easy. Instead, I hope you’ve gained some information about writing relationships and feel empowered to tackle your own.

If that’s the case, what are you still doing here? Take what you’ve learned and go write!

P.S. Don't forget to snag your free Relationship Arcs Checklist!

Doug Landsborough

Doug Landsborough can’t get enough of writing. Whether freelancing as an editor, blog writer, or ghostwriter, Doug is a big fan of the power of words. In his spare time, he writes about monsters, angels, and demons under the name D. William Landsborough. When not obsessing about sympathetic villains and wondrous magic, Doug enjoys board games, horror movies, and spending time with his wife, Sarah.