Successful stories are driven by authentic and interesting characters, so it’s important to craft them carefully. But characters don’t usually exist in a vacuum; throughout the course of your story, they’ll live, work, play, and fight with other cast members. Some of those relationships are positive and supportive, pushing the protagonist to positive growth and helping them achieve their goals. Other relationships do exactly the opposite, derailing your character’s confidence and self-worth or they cause friction and conflict that leads to fallout and disruption. Many relationships hover somewhere in the middle. A balanced story will require a mix of these dynamics.
The purpose of this thesaurus is to encourage you to explore the kinds of relationships that might be good for your story and figure out what each might look like. Think about what a character needs (good and bad), and build a network of connections for him or her that will challenge them, showcase their innermost qualities, and bind readers to their relationship trials and triumphs.
Description: Rivals are competitors who want the same thing, but there’s an emotional investment that makes the outcome more personal. Rivals are highly motivated to defeat one another and can be individuals or groups (rival teams, businesses, etc.).
Each relationship is different, depending on the people involved, their history together, their individual personalities, and a host of factors. Below are a wide range of dynamics that can accompany this relationship. Use the ideas that suit your story and work best for your characters to bring about and/or resolve the necessary conflict.
Friendly teasing and light trash-talking
Keeping “score” and using it to motivate the other to work harder
Making cheeky comments when one is ahead
Encouraging one another to bring their best to the match
Respecting one another and the skills each display
Trying to outdo one another but not resenting the other’s success
Socializing outside of the competition
Respecting a rival’s dedication and work ethic
Using one’s admiration for the rival’s talents to push oneself to try harder
Supporting the rival when it matters (a political rival showing up to help his with clean up after his opponent’s house floods)
Coming together if there is an outside threat (working together to secure funding for a rec center that is closing, for example)
Taking the rivalry too far and losing perspective
Trying to poke the rival’s soft spots to mess with their performance
Seeking to damage the other’s reputation
Encouraging risk-taking in hopes they overreach and make a mistake
An unhealthy obsession with the rival
Hostility and bitterness (bad-mouthing, constantly complaining, etc.)
Going out of one’s way to mess with the rival (underbidding to secure a contract that the rival wanted, buying a property the rival needed to prevent them from expanding their business, etc.)
Underhandedness or unethical behavior
Low blows and fighting dirty
Cyberstalking and creating fake accounts to troll them anonymously
The rivalry taking over a team or group, creating dysfunction and chaos
Fantasizing ways to bring them down
Conflicting Desires that Can Impair the Relationship
Wanting to win at all costs
High stakes, something personal being on the line
A danger or risk that equates winning with survival
Clashing Personality Trait Combinations:
Unethical and Honorable, Temperamental and Hostile; Perfectionist and Talented; Reckless and Disciplined
Negative Outcomes of Friction
Losing control of one’s emotions and making a costly mistake
Going too far with the rivalry and someone gets hurt
A lack of judgment that costs one everything (being kicked out a league for bad behavior, destroying a relationship over a rivalry, etc.)
Crossing a moral line that can’t be uncrossed
Turning the rivalry into a vendetta
Risking everything to win or get even and ending up losing it all
Having tunnel vision and ignoring other rivals, losing sight of priorities, or missing opportunities to one’s own downfall
Developing a habit (turning to drug enhancements for performance)
The rivalry causing problems in one’s marriage (the obsession taking over and family life suffering)
Scenarios That Could Turn These Characters into Allies
A threat emerging that impacts both rivals (a new competitor moving in that has no scruples, has different values, or is stealing the market share)
When fundraising is needed to allow the competition to continue
When the rivals have common ground (children who are best friends, wives who both are critically ill, discovering a charity they both passionately care about)
Ways This Relationship May Lead to Positive Change
Growing one’s skills to match a rival
Admiring the rival’s focus, organization, training or education and dedicating oneself to becoming more like them
The rivalry becoming a way to bring people together in a good way (friendly rivalry, cheering for one’s “team”)
The rivalry generating buzz and reviving interest in the sport or activity
A rivalry bringing together a team and increasing productivity
Rivalries can lead to innovation and creativity as each side tries to come out on top
Themes and Symbols That Can Be Explored through This Relationship
A Fall from Grace, A Quest for Knowledge, Betrayal, Crossroads, Endings, Friendship, Obstacles, Perseverance, Pride, Recognition, Sacrifice, Teamwork, Transformation, Unity, Vanity
Other Relationship Thesaurus entries can be found here.
Need More Descriptive Help?
While this thesaurus is still being developed, the rest of our descriptive collection (15 unique thesauri and growing) is accessible through the One Stop for Writers THESAURUS database.
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Angela is a writing coach, international speaker, and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also is a founder of One Stop For Writers, a portal to powerful, innovative tools to help writers elevate their storytelling.