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: At its basis, this relationship consists of two parties abiding by a mutual agreement and providing something the other needs or wants. But ego, greed, irresponsibility, external family dynamics, and so many other things can turn this seemingly simple relationship into a complex one. Because the stakes are high for both individuals should things fall apart, the potential for conflict between these characters is high.
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.
Mutual respect in the form of both parties abiding by the rules of the legal contract and holding up their end of the bargain
An empathetic landlord who understands that life happens, choosing to extend grace to a tenant in need
A landlord making their tenant a priority by taking care of facilities issues promptly
A tenant being a responsible steward of the landlord’s property and leaving it in the same or better condition than when they moved in
A landlord checking in periodically to see how the tenant is doing (rather than only reaching out when there’s an issue)
A landlord and tenant resolving to work through their problems rather than bringing in an outside source, such as a lawyer or the police
The landlord being so agreeable and helpful that the tenant sees him/her as a resource rather than the last person they’d go to for help
Addressing concerns respectfully
A tenant consistently being late or not paying their rent
An absentee landlord who shows no concern for the tenant’s living conditions
A landlord having no sympathy for an emergency situation that temporarily puts the tenant behind
A vengeful tenant who resolves to make the landlord pay for a real or perceived slight
A landlord being quick to evict their tenants
A landlord or tenant avoiding the other party’s phone calls and correspondence
Dishonesty—the tenant lying about when they’ll have this month’s payment or the landlord saying they called a repair service when they didn’t
A nitpicky landlord who won’t let the tenant make any changes to personalize the property
A tenant who does what they want (painting walls crazy colors or changing the landscaping) and pleads ignorance, deciding to ask for forgiveness instead of permission
Conflicting Desires that Can Impair the Relationship
The landlord wanting a romantic relationship with a tenant who isn’t interested
A landlord who wants a long-term tenant and a tenant who wants to move on
A biased landlord wanting to get rid of a tenant for unfair reasons while the tenant just wants a roof over their head
A tenant who wants something outside of the landlord’s parameters (getting a pet, hosting a raucous party, etc.)
A landlord who wants their property to be respected and a tenant who sees the living space as something to be used up and discarded
A landlord wanting to evict a negligent tenant who refuses to leave
One party wanting to communicate about a problem while the other party is avoiding contact
A tenant wanting to be let out of their contract, and the landlord refusing to comply
A tenant wanting to live in safe and clean conditions, and a landlord who is too cheap, lazy, or apathetic to get involved
A tenant and landlord conducting illegal activity on the property but having different desires about the operation (e.g., one wants to grow and make tons of money while the other wants to stay small and avoid unwanted attention)
Clashing Personality Trait Combinations:
Confrontational and Timid, Controlling and Weak-Willed, Disrespectful and Respectful, Flaky and Responsible, Gossipy and Private, Perfectionist and Lazy, Fussy and Scatterbrained
Negative Outcomes of Friction
The tenant being evicted
An unhappy tenant trashing the landlord online, making it hard for him/her to obtain a new tenant
Bad feelings making it harder to resolve future issues
Broken trust leading to oversensitivity, which results in unnecessary conflict
One party choosing to get back at the other in a subversive way (slashing their tires, vandalizing the property and blaming someone else, etc.)
The tenant getting sick or being attacked because of a property issue that the landlord should have handled but didn’t
The tenant being unhappy in their own home
The landlord experiencing stress and health problems from financial strain when tenants don’t fulfill their obligations
Fictional Scenarios That Could Turn These Characters into Allies
A wealthy individual seeking to buy the property and turn it into something no one wants
An environmental leak from a nearby factory or business bringing the tenants and landlord together to fight a common foe
Pending legislation that, if passed, would be bad for the community as a whole
A gang, drug ring, or other entity moving into the area and making it unsafe
The landlord and tenant joining forces to get rid of another tenant
The landlord and tenant coming together to break up a romance between members of their families
The parties becoming business partners and starting a criminal enterprise on the property
An outside source taking an interest in the property and bringing unwanted attention to the landlord and tenant (the police, the IRS, etc.)
Ways This Relationship May Lead to Positive Growth
One party helping the other to overcome bias and change their mind about “that kind of people”
A landlord developing empathy for others
A tenant’s loving family situation leading the landlord to pursue improvements or reconciliation within his or her own family
A landlord teaching a stubborn tenant that it’s okay to accept help from others
A young tenant learning valuable lessons about keeping one’s word and being financially responsible
A positive landlord taking an active role in a tenant’s life, becoming a mentor and providing the skills needed to pursue their dreams
Themes and Symbols That Can Be Explored through This Relationship
A Fall from Grace, Beginnings, Borders, Disorder, Endings, Greed, Inflexibility, Instability, Journeys, Refuge, Sacrifice
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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Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling.