Trigger warning on this one. Please practice self care.
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.
Stalker and Target
Description: This relationship is a one-sided fixation where a stalker deliberately observes, pursues, harasses, manipulates, falsely inserts themselves, and maliciously targets another, causing them psychological distress and often physical harm. A stalker often chooses their victim due to being scorned, certain visual or personality factors (having a preferred “type”), manic beliefs (political, for example), an inability to let go of a past relationship, feeling wronged, or even because the target is a fit for a fantasy (a good surrogate for a situation the stalker wishes to re-experience). They may believe a special bond is in place, their fate is entwined, the two are meant to be together romantically, or that the target must die.
Depending on the aggressor, they may fixate on a stranger, acquaintance, or even a celebrity. It is possible the target may not even know what is taking place if the stalker’s fantasy is to keep them unaware but usually at some point they progress things to activate the victim’s fears. Either way, the stalker experiences a rush of power from having special knowledge about and influence over the target, and feels God-like at having control over what ultimately happens to them.
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.
Fantasizing and reading into innocent interactions
Obsessing about the target and prying into their personal affairs to feel close to them
Sending unwanted gifts, letters, and tokens
Gathering the target’s personal information without permission
Digital stalking, bullying, or insertion into the target’s online contacts
Using manipulation to influence or cause problems (spreading falsehoods or lying to people in the target’s life to cause disruption)
Monitoring their movements and interactions
Theft or forced entry to access to the target’s property or personal items
Vandalizing their home, car, or place of work
Mimicking to feel closer (ordering the same takeout, building friendships with the target’s core group, wearing the same clothing, etc.)
Moving or altering things around the victim to cause them to question their memory or feel unsafe
Cloning their electronic devices, digital hacking
Hurting people (or animals) around the victim to send a message
Impersonation (cancelling their appointments, giving permissions they would never give by phone, providing false reports, etc.)
Wanting the target to “pay” for not noticing them or returning their feelings
Manipulating people close to the target
Fantasizing about what will happen and even rehearsing an attack
Attacking, restraining, forcibly confining, and/or committing sexual assault against the target
Conflicting Desires that Can Impair the Relationship
The stalker’s need to control conflicting with the target’s independence
When the stalker’s fantasies take on such enormity they can no longer discern reality from fantasy
When the stalker wants a specific, happy future with the target but then also wants them to hurt because of a perceived betrayal (dating someone else, not appreciating gifts. etc.)
Aggressively pursuing the target to the point of recklessness and being caught
Becoming so paralyzed by fear that even if the stalker is caught, the survivor’s life is diminished by it
Being captured and developing Stockholm Syndrome becoming confused and enmeshed in the stalker’s reality
Clashing Personality Trait Combinations: Controlling and independent; resourceful and intelligent; compulsive and inflexible, meticulous and observant, trusting and manipulative
Negative Outcomes of Friction
Surviving and becoming a prisoner to fear
Believing one is to blame for the stalker’s obsession
Having feeling for the target that spiral out of control
Crossing a moral line in order to obtain what one believes one must have
Having to kill to survive
Having to leave one’s life behind and go into hiding to stay safe
Never feeling safe as a result of the experience and being unable to trust
Fictional Scenarios That Could Turn These Characters into Allies
A greater threat that brings the two together for survival (a natural disaster, a house fire, etc.)
The belief that someone can be redeemed or needing to forgive to move forward
A belief that all life is precious (say in a scenario where the victim seriously injures their stalker to escape but administers aid so they survive)
Ways This Relationship May Lead to Positive Change
If a stalker was caught and placed in psychiatric care they may get the help they need and no longer be controlled by their urges
A character who has to rescue themselves from a stalker may learn resiliency and gain inner strength
A close call might make a character more careful in the future (a stalker will be more meticulous and plan better to avoid being caught and a survivor will become more observant and aware of the people who have access to them)
Themes and Symbols That Can Be Explored through This Relationship
Alienation, Betrayal, Danger, Death, Deception, Enslavement, Evil, Freedom, Hope, Innocence, Instability, Isolation, Loss, Love, Obstacles, Perseverance, Rebellion, Sacrifice, Suffering, Violence, Vulnerability
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.