The Undeniable Draw of Dysfunctional Relations

Relationships between people are utterly fascinating to me. It’s one of the parts of writing that pulled me to the craft in the first place—how people relate to one another. It may be because I’m not so good with relating to other people, but I love exploring how different characters relate to each other and how it complicates the story at large.

And I’m not just talking about romantic relationships but also relationships between hero and villain, between family, between friends (though, if you think about it, these are all types of love stories, just maybe not all that romantic). The delicate interplay between two (or more) human beings is one of the most important and central pieces of a puzzle that makes good story for me. Suffice it to say, Man vs. Nature is not really my cup of tea.

No, give me the young girl’s unrequited love affair, a son’s silent resentment, and a friend’s disappointed failure, and then play it against the oblivious boy, the overreaching mother, and the unknowing friend’s success. I want to see how two souls react to a given circumstance and the wonderfully wrenching devastation that follows.

Okay, so maybe I’m a bit of a sadist to fictional characters, but honestly, we all take a little bit of vicarious joy at seeing the good guys struggle through torn friendships and lost loves. Sometimes they recover, sometimes they don’t. It’s the things that pull the characters apart, that really play those heartstrings, isn’t it? It’s a well-known phenomenon in television that when your male and female leads who have been flirting for forever, finally take the dive, that your ratings will soon follow. Sure, we want to see the lovely couple come together in the end, but…well…that’s the end, isn’t it?

In most cases, we don’t want to see their happily ever after. We want to see them work for it. We want that sexy chemistry played against impossible odds that keep a wedge between our besotted hero and heroine. We want to see the arguments as our hero’s sidekicks lose faith when all hope seems lost. We want the subtext and the betrayal and the hidden truths.

Happy endings are all well and good, but in truth, for me, the real joy of a good story isn’t the obstacle itself. It’s the reactions each character has to said obstacle and how they mix together to make the fantastically messy soup that touches and enrages and saddens. It’s not necessarily the struggle itself, but the way that struggle effects and changes the people caught in the whirlwind of it. To me, there is no better fun to be had in both the reading and the writing of fictional characters.

So, when plotting out that next great story, let me suggest to you to not think about how you’ll bring your characters together, but rather how to pull them apart. After all, good story is made from good conflict, and the more emotionally devastating the conflict the more satisfying that happy ending will feel.

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