Personal alliances can be critical to the success of a story. To me these include acquaintances, friendships, close friendships and romances. I find that it's really important, if I'm going to have two characters who have a friendship, to understand why it is that they are friends. One of the potential pitfalls of writing stories is that we can set up our cast of characters and place them on stage, announcing, "these people are friends" without deeply considering what they have in common and what brought them together. When we have two people fall in love, this can (I suppose) happen instantly and simply through pure physical attraction, but I like to consider a little more than just the "hhhot" factor when trying to get two people together. Indeed, I find it even more fun when the people are coming together in a more complicated way, as through adversity, overcoming dislike, becoming attracted without realizing it, etc.
I'm going to consider some basic
alignment ingredients first, and then talk about engaging in the process
of bringing two people together for an unlikely romance.
current protagonist, Tagret, has three friends he always hangs around
with. They have ended up together partly because they're all well-bred
boys with a lot of money, a good deal of kindness, and an interest in
school. However, each of them has an additional reason to hang around
Tagret, and that affects how they deal with him. Gowan is very
politically oriented, and not only does he like Tagret, but he
recognizes the strength of Tagret's political position (through his
father) and thinks it's advantageous to hang out with him because of
that. This means the other boys are inclined to ask him for advice on
political matters. Fernar is strong and everyone
wants him on his side in a fight, but he feels less confident politically and values Tagret and Gowan for what they can teach him. Tagret's best friend is Reyn. Why?
Because both of them share the experience of living alone with a sibling
and a house full of servants while their parents have been sent to
other cities for jobs. Because of this, they stick together and help
each other through trouble more than the others. Details like these not
only make it plausible that these boys would be friends, but allow each
person to interact differently with the others.
We can think of
these as things that the characters have in common. We can also bring
characters closer in a story through letting them face adversity
together. Events that bring characters closer are generally increasing
the ways in which the two people align with one another.
let's look at romance for a minute. The #1-A thing that everyone is
going to think of to bring two people together is physical attraction.
Yep, no surprise there. But particularly if a romance is going to be
building over the course of an entire story, and ending in a lasting
relationship rather than just a one-night stand, there has to be more to
it than just hotness. I will tend to think of it in terms of two lists:
1. the list of things that separate the two people and 2. the list of
things that they have in common. If I cause events to negate the effects
of anything in list 2, the people will fall apart. If they are going
instead to form a lasting relationship, any extremely serious objections
or separation elements from list one have to be directly and
deliberately countered by adding elements to list two.
Varin world, caste level distinctions are huge - cultural as well as
legal - and not easily countered. One of the cross-caste relationships
in my books results because a servant sees someone else disguised as
another servant, and becomes both physically attracted to her and
intellectually engaged with her before he realizes his mistake.
Importantly, thought, he is also at the same time learning things about
the historical origins of the caste distinctions that cause him to doubt
what he'd always believed about them. Another relationship begins more
subtly, because one of the characters feels so intimidated by the
physicality of the other that his physicality impresses her more than
his caste. Here the intimidation itself is an influence that keeps them
apart - however, because it causes her to disregard his caste, I can
then work on removing the sense of intimidation, and thereafter the
caste factors will have less power to separate them.
I keep the
alignment/separation lists in my mind when I'm writing conversations,
and when I'm writing descriptions. If one character expresses
unadulterated admiration for another, then that is going to suggest
bringing them together - but it may not be realistic or appropriate for
that person to express such admiration. I therefore play with
ambivalence by putting expressions of admiration and separation in the
same sentence or internalized description. "Alien but beautiful" might
express one kind of ambivalence. "Possessing refined warmth" also
suggests a contrast that might be meaningful to a different person.
we work with close relationships, we end up playing right along the
edge of discomfort. Getting closer with someone else involves
considerable risk. This should be reflected in the writing. Often events
that tighten alignment also cause discomfort or a sense of invasion.
Then the question becomes what to make of that discomfort - whether to
soothe it, or to intensify it, etc. Discomfort is an opportunity for a
writer who is trying to align two people, because situations that are
uncomfortable are often perfect for initiating change in a person's
When you're working with relationships in your stories, do take the time to ask yourself some questions like those below:
1. Why are these people friends? What specific things do they find most compelling about one another, and why?
Does this relationship require a backstory of specific aligning events,
such as hardship? Or does it simply require basic common conditions?
3. How big a role does physical attraction play in the relationship between these characters?
4. What keeps or pulls these two people apart?
5. What ingredients might be able to counter the factors listed in question 4, and bring them together?
6. Can I use common experiences to erase the effects of prejudgment?
7. Can I align these two people in a similar way relative to a third party, event or task?
Are these people aware that they are coming together? If they are, how
do they react to the knowledge? If they aren't, why aren't they? Is
there something about the nature of the separation factors that keeps
them from considering the possibility of their attraction?
be aware (though it should be no surprise to most of you) that I'm
coming at these questions from a human-relations and anthropology
viewpoint rather than a romance-writing viewpoint, so I can't speak to
the particular requirements of the romance genre. However, I hope that
these considerations can help you in thinking about relationships in
your own work.