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: In this situation, there’s an unfair balance of power, with one party using their power to consistently belittle, insult, abuse, or take advantage of someone who is more vulnerable. While we see this too frequently with children and teenagers, it happens in adult relationships, too. Severe adult bullying situations often go by more sophisticated names, such as domestic abuse, stalking, or sexual harassment.
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.
The victim standing up to the bully (which can result in the bully moving on to other victims over time)
The bully vacillating between abusing the victim and treating him/her well
The victim going out of their way to avoid the bully, resulting in much inconvenience
The victim currying favor with the bully, trying to get on their good side
The victim laughing off, dismissing, or even making excuses for the bullying behavior
The bully targeting the one victim vs. multiple victims
The bully targeting only certain aspects of the character’s life (their physical appearance, their capabilities at work, their gender/race/religion, etc.) vs. a generalized bullying that is less predictable
A bully using subversive, covert methods (gaslighting, manipulation, etc.) that are harder to recognize and prove than overt abuse
Conflicting Desires that Can Impair the Relationship
The bully wanting to exert power over a victim who wants to stand up for him/herself
The victim seeking respect or acceptance from a bully who only wants to domineer and belittle
A victim seeking self-respect and a bully who wants to tear it apart
A bully who wants to continue exerting control over a victim seeking revenge
Clashing Personality Trait Combinations: Controlling and Stubborn, Pushy and Volatile
Negative Outcomes of Friction
The victim being publicly humiliated
The victim believing what the bully says about him or her
The victim giving in the bully (refusing to fight back)
Paralysis; the victim not know what to do, so they do nothing
The victim entertaining suicidal thoughts
The victim’s work being negatively impacted (due to decreased efficiency or them taking days off to avoid the bully)
Developing physical or mental ailments (stress headaches, ulcers, insomnia, panic attacks, depression, etc.)
Fictional Scenarios That Could Turn These Characters into Allies
An apocalyptic scenario (a pandemic, an impending meteor strike)
A less dramatic threat to their environment: a new principal who wants to control everyone
A common passion—e.g., discovering that they both love K-Pop, WWII documentaries, or pickle-flavored foods
Them needing to join forces to land a client at work or win a competition
The bully needing help with something the victim is capable of providing (medical attention, tutoring, specific information, etc.)
Ways This Relationship May Lead to Positive Growth
The victim learning to stand up for him or herself
The victim banding together with other victims and finding his or her tribe
The bully being bullied, resulting in a change of heart toward his/her victims
A bully being forgiven or shown grace by a victim, leading him/her toward personal growth
The bully being confronted with their personal wounding event and realizing that their bullying behavior is an outgrowth of that, which leads to internal growth
Themes and Symbols That Can Be Explored through This Relationship
A Fall from Grace, Coming of Age, Crossroads, Danger, Enslavement, Evil, Freedom, Friendship, Innocence, Isolation, Perseverance, Pride, Suffering, 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.
If you like, swing by and check out the video walkthrough, and then give our Free Trial a spin.
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.