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: When charged or convicted of a crime, a person is taken into custody and placed in a secure cell, either alone or with others. One or more guards monitor those incarcerated to ensure they and others are safe. Guards enforce rules, transport prisoners from their cell to other secure areas, accompany them to hearings, necessary appointments, and other court-appointed appearances. Generally their job is to tell the prisoner what to do, where to go, and how to behave. Because guards have power and authority while prisoners have none, what this ultimately looks like depends on the ethics of the legal system in place and the rules and regulations guards are bound by as they carry out their duties.
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.
Invading privacy as part of the job, searching an inmate or their cell for contraband and weapons
Working to keep prisoners calm during stressful moments (after family visits, when an appeal is overturned, after sentencing, etc.)
Cracking down on disruptions to enforce peace
An inmate having a legitimate problem that guards don’t take seriously
An inmate feeling micromanaged and constantly watched by authority
A guard intervening in a conflict to protect a prisoner from other inmates
A prisoner who tries to uncover a guard’s weaknesses to manipulate them
A prisoner who incites others to cause trouble for the guards (for entertainment, to distract them, or to put them in peril)
Guards trying to get information from prisoners via threats, force, or punishment
Taking away items from a prisoner to remind them who is in charge
Turning a blind eye to cruelty or violence unless it reaches a certain level
A guard who takes discipline too far and badly injures a prisoner
A guard who uses their position of power for gain (taking bribes, demanding sexual favors, etc.)
A guard being paid to pass on messages, contraband, or to arrange for special privileges
Trying to intimidate a guard by making threats to use outside connections to hurt a guard’s family
Conflicting Desires that Can Impair the Relationship
Prisoners wanting to escape the guards keeping them locked up
Inmates who struggle with authority figures
Guards trying to turn a prisoner into an informant when the prisoner knows that will get them killed
Wanting to control the actions of a prisoner prone to violence
Wanting to get revenge on a guard when he or she has all the power
Knowing a guard is unethical and sadistic and being unable to do anything about it
Clashing Personality Trait Combinations: Manipulative and perceptive, dishonest and trusting, controlling and independent, private and controlling, disrespectful and proper, evil and alert
Negative Outcomes of Friction
A prisoner attacking a guard
A fatality resulting from a brawl
A prisoner getting hold of a weapon and using it on a guard
A prisoner inciting a riot
An inmate gaining leverage over a guard (threatening their family, or uncovering a crime and threatening to expose the guard)
Fictional Scenarios That Could Turn These Characters into Allies
A prison riot where both are being targeted by the same enemy
When the guard takes an interest in an inmate looking to turn their life around
When a guard is overtaken and an inmate steps in to help
When an inmate is the target and the guard steps in to save them
Ways This Relationship May Lead to Positive Change
Jaded guards may encounter prisoners who are ready to make big changes in their life and regain the belief that not every criminal is irredeemable
Prisoners might make changes to their life because a guard takes the time to get them involved in something positive (a re-education program, therapy, community service, support group, etc.)
A guard may realize this job is taking too much, sapping their hope and belief in humanity, and as a result, make a career change that leads to greater fulfillment
A prisoner may see corruption or discrimination happening within the prison system and seek to bring about reform
Themes and Symbols That Can Be Explored through This Relationship
A Fall from Grace, Betrayal, Crossroads, Danger, Endings, Enslavement, Evil, Freedom, Friendship, Hope, Inflexibility, Innocence, Isolation, Journeys, Obstacles, Passage of Time, Perseverance, Rebellion, Sacrifice, Stagnation, Suffering, Transformation, Violence
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.