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: Executives are busy people who very often will hire a personal assistant to handle their administrative needs. The assistant’s responsibilities may be strictly professional (scheduling appointments, fielding phone calls, taking notes during meetings, etc.) or also personal (ordering a gift for the nephew’s graduation, planning meals and shopping for groceries, etc.). Whatever the agreed-upon duties, a personal assistant uses their skills to keep all the executive’s plates spinning.
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.
A strictly professional relationship, where personal topics and conversations don’t typically come up
A cozier relationship—professional, but with each person knowing and caring about the other’s personal life
A strong professional relationship between two people who may not get along on a personal level
An assistant who takes initiative and an executive who trusts them to do their job well
A micromanaging executive who doesn’t trust his assistant with meaningful tasks
A disorganized or uncommunicative boss who makes the assistant’s job difficult
A selfish executive who expects the assistant to constantly be at their beck and call
An executive who expects more of the assistant (personally or professionally) than they should
An assistant who lacks confidence, needing a lot of hand-holding for new or high-pressure tasks
A pushy assistant who constantly oversteps her bounds
Conflicting Desires that Can Impair the Relationship
One party becoming romantically interested in the other
An ambitious executive’s changing needs causing tension for an assistant who is happy with the status quo
The executive wanting to build a team but the assistant wanting to keep things simple and more personal
An assistant taking the job solely because they want access to sensitive information or the executive’s contacts
An executive wanting the assistant to work long hours while the assistant wants to be more available for their family
An assistant with a personal secret that the executive is eager to ferret out
Clashing Personality Trait Combinations: Controlling and Independent, Cruel and Just, Disloyal and Trusting, Disorganized and Fussy, Thrifty and Extravagant, Flaky and Sensible, Gossipy and Private
Negative Outcomes of Friction
The assistant being fired
The assistant becoming resentful, leading to them seeking vengeance against the executive
An assistant burning out and becoming less effective
Things becoming awkward at work
One party domineering and controlling the other
A lack of trust eroding the relationship
Negative feelings factoring into the assistant’s performance review
Important assignments or business relationships getting caught in the crossfire, resulting in lost professional opportunities
One party losing respect for the other
Fictional Scenarios That Could Turn These Characters into Allies
Joining forces to take down a common enemy, such as the executive’s rival or a new business owner
A personal tragedy for one party that encourages the other to take up their cause
The assistant playing matchmaker so the executive will find romance and be around less often
The assistant being unable to work, and the executive meeting a need that solves the problem (such as providing transportation, childcare, or medical services) so the work relationship can continue
Both parties coming together to attain something they both want, such as a bigger office or the business acquiring a prestigious partner
Ways This Relationship May Lead to Positive Change
One party’s workaholic ways can be challenged when they see the other’s fulfilling personal life
A doormat assistant may learn to stand up for him or herself and set healthy boundaries
Both parties may learn the importance of keeping things professional at work
An assistant may learn important skills or knowledge from the boss, becoming better at their job and advancing professionally
Either party may overcome prejudice
An older executive may become more relevant due to a younger assistant’s influence
Themes and Symbols That Can Be Explored through This Relationship
A Fall from Grace, A Quest for Knowledge, Betrayal, Crossroads, Disorder, Enslavement, Freedom, Friendship, Greed, Inflexibility, Perseverance, Pride, Sacrifice, Teamwork
Other Relationship Thesaurus entries can be found here.
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