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.
Teacher and Student
Description: A staple in kid lit, this relationship is one that most people have experienced firsthand. But it can be current for an adult in this profession or as a backstory event for someone with the school years firmly in their rearview mirror. Some factors that could influence the dynamics of this relationship include the age of the student, individual personalities, school funding, student limitations (learning disabilities, problems at home, lack of parental involvement, etc.), and extraneous pressures on the teacher at the time (facing a chronic illness, the death of a parent, financial difficulties, etc.).
Below are a wide range of dynamics that may 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.
Showing mutual respect for each other
A teacher helping a reluctant or struggling student bloom
A student recognizing the role a teacher is playing in their own development and success
A teacher seeing beyond the student’s academic needs and taking steps to meet this needs
Struggling to teach an apathetic student
A disrespectful or hostile student resisting learning and disrupting the school environment
A teacher not knowing how to properly service a student with learning or behavioral disabilities
Trying to teach a child being hampered by over-involved, enabling or absentee parents
A student being taught by a tenured teacher who is just going through the motions
A willing learner being hampered by unmet needs (being hungry, not getting enough sleep, suffering abuse at home, etc.)
A teacher distracted by personal issues being apathetic or distant
Being taught by a teacher with unrealistic expectations
A teacher belittling or disparaging their students
A student constantly challenging a teacher’s authority
The relationship being hampered by bias or prejudice on either side
Conflicting Desires that Can Impair the Relationship
A teacher wanting to teach while a student wants to put in as little work as possible
Both the student and the teacher wanting control
A student wanting to keep a secret (a learning disability, abuse, neglect, etc.) that the teacher is determined to uncover
A teacher wanting to keep a secret (a criminal record, an affair, an unpopular ideology, etc.) that the student wants to uncover and exploit
A teacher wanting to skate through their day while the student wants attention or a challenge
One character wanting more from the relationship than the other desires (romantically, emotionally, etc.)
Clashing Personality Trait Combinations: Apathetic and Enthusiastic, Cruel and Timid, Disrespectful and Just, Playful and Humorless, Impulsive and Impatient, Rebellious and Controlling
Negative Outcomes of Friction
A student losing trust or respect for people in authority
A student who was punished unfairly or wasn’t believed deciding that standing up to the people in charge is a waste of time and effort
The student withdrawing emotionally and not getting the help they need
A student not succeeding academically and being limited in future endeavors
A teacher becoming disenfranchised with his or her profession
A teacher not learning from difficult experiences with a student and repeating mistakes with others in the future
The teacher losing their job
A student being suspended or expelled
Bias or prejudice being reinforced, making it harder to overcome
Fictional Scenarios That Could Turn These Characters into Allies
A competition or contest that the student’s club (sponsored by the teacher) wants to win
Getting rid of another teacher or administrator
A shared criminal endeavor, à la Breaking Bad
An unknown that they must research and explore (a source of magic connected with the grounds, a prophecy that will destroy the school building if it comes to pass, etc.)
Inequity or unethical behavior in the school environment that they choose to fight together
Freeing the student from a toxic relationship
Exacting revenge against someone who wronged the teacher
Ways This Relationship May Lead to Positive Growth
A teacher reaching a struggling student and gaining confidence in his or her own abilities
Success with a difficult student revitalizing a teacher’s belief in their profession
A teacher seeing the problems in her school or district and taking steps to make things better
A student learning something that alters their perspective (realizing they’re not stupid, that they’re good at reading, math can be fun, teachers aren’t the enemy, etc.)
A student being inspired by a teacher to pursue a certain career, scholarship opportunity, etc.
The student being able to help other students with the knowledge they’ve gained
Themes and Symbols That Can Be Explored through This Relationship
A Quest for Knowledge, Coming of Age, Crossroads, Inflexibility, Innocence, Journeys, Knowledge, Obstacles, Perseverance, Rebellion, Refuge, Rite of Passage
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.