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: Neighbors, by definition, live close to each other. For the protagonist, this could be the person living in the house across the street from them, on the farm that borders their property, or on the other side of an apartment wall. In today’s world, people are often busy and may see their neighbors less than usual, but the opportunities for both support and strife make it a relationship worth exploring.
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.
Respecting physical and emotional boundaries
Looking out for each other
Providing what the neighbor needs: a listening ear, caring for a pet while the owner is out of town, privacy, etc.
Addressing problems directly instead of going through a third party
Reasonably maintaining one’s property so it doesn’t negatively impact those living nearby
Being considerate when it comes to noise, parking, etc.
Making certain decisions with the community (instead of only themselves) in mind
Acting thoughtlessly—i.e., throwing loud parties that run into the wee hours
Disregarding requests to keep one’s property safe and reasonably clean
Disrespecting the neighbor’s property (letting one’s dog poop on their lawn, allowing trees to drop rotting fruit in their backyard, etc.)
Reporting an issue to the Homeowner’s Association instead of trying to work it out with the neighbor
Prying into the neighbor’s personal business
Constantly coming over unannounced
Borrowing tools and not returning them
Monopolizing streetside parking or blocking the neighbor’s driveway
Conflicting Desires that Can Impair the Relationship
One neighbor eager to build a friendship while the other wants privacy
A neighbor who is religious about lawn maintenance while the other prefers a natural look
Living next door to a budding musician and having to trade solitude to keep the peace
A homeowner who rents the home as a vacation property living next to someone who wants steady neighbors
One neighbor wanting to own a backyard beehive but the other is allergic
Neighbors needing quiet at different times due to shiftwork
A neighbor with secrets living next to someone who is overly curious
Someone with trust issues living next to someone who is clueless about other people’s boundaries
A recovering alcoholic living next to someone who likes to drink and party
A dog rescuer living next to someone who breeds dogs for quick cash
Clashing Personality Trait Combinations:
Timid and confrontational, cooperative and uncooperative, courteous and disrespectful, curious and evasive, meticulous and sloppy, private and nosy, responsible and selfish
Negative Outcomes of Friction
Small, unresolved conflicts leading to larger ones
Purposely doing things the other will find annoying
The relationship becoming distant and superficial
Assuming wrongdoing for other infractions and accusing the neighbor erroneously
Children losing friends because the parents can’t get along
Needing help and feeling unable to ask for it
Calling bylaw on the neighbor for every minor infraction
Becoming isolated in the community when the other neighbors take sides against the character
Home no longer being the character’s safe and happy place
Bringing hostility online and turning a community chat forum toxic
Fictional Scenarios That Could Turn These Characters into Allies
A tragedy bringing the community together
Working together to get a terrible building manager fired
Coming together to help another tenant who is struggling (someone recovering from surgery, a neighbor who lost their son to suicide, etc.)
Neighbors who discover they have an interest or hobby in common
Co-occupants who have no living relatives connecting to erase loneliness
An overworked single parent finding childcare with a neighbor who regrets not having kids of her own
Two budding killers discovering their mutual interest teaming up to keep from being caught
Seeing a neighbor in need and viewing it as a chance to make amends for a past mistake
Working on a community project both see as being important
Ways This Relationship May Lead to Positive Change
A helpful neighbor (i.e., one who occasionally watches the character’s son for free) can encourage the character to get outside of himself and serve others
A social-minded neighbor who’s always organizing this or that charity drive can help an isolated character find a much-needed community
A character on good terms with his neighbors will find those relationships useful in a post-apocalyptic or natural disaster scenario
Diplomatic neighbors can teach a selfish character or first-time homeowner how to co-exist with others
A biased character may find his beliefs challenged when he gets to know his neighbor, encouraging him to re-examine those ideas
Themes and Symbols That Can Be Explored through This Relationship
A Fall from Grace, Alienation, Beginnings, Betrayal, Borders, Coming of Age, Crossroads, Danger, Endings, Friendship, Hope, Instability, Isolation, Loss, Love, Obstacles, Rebellion, Sacrifice, Stagnation, Teamwork, Unity
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.