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: Up to sixty percent of children construct an imaginary friend, either by assigning a personality and attributes to a stationary object (like a stuffed animal, doll, or action figure) or by creating an invisible one from the fabric of their imagination, so this can be a good element to being into your story. The child’s behavior and relationship dynamics between the character and this imaginary other is different in each case. A tangible object friend tends to become something they care for and protect (a parental or caregiving relationship) while an invisible friend is a companion the child treats as an equal. This latter type can be a person, animal, or something else the child dreams up. Imaginary friends are a healthy source of entertainment, friendship, support, and will allow your child character to explore ideas, gain confidence and competency, and practice social interactions in a safe way.
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.
Having a routine with the friend (eating breakfast together, spending time doing their favorite things, taking them on car trips, etc.)
Letting the friend pick out clothes to wear or activities to do
Talking about likes and dislikes
Having someone to talk to about one’s parents, siblings, etc.
Asking the friend for advice to work through problems
Having someone to build imaginative stories with, play dress up, act out scenarios
Asking a parent for advice regarding something the “friend” wonders about or worries over
Sharing what the imaginary friend thinks or believes with a parent or sibling
Sharing secrets with the friend
Being a companion so together, the two feel braver or more capable
Talking to the friend while completing mundane tasks (cleaning one’s room, etc.)
Advocating for the friend when something comes up that “they” are scared of or don’t like
Wanting the friend to be close or touching (especially regarding toys with personalities)
Venting to the imaginary friend about a slight or perceived unfairness
Becoming a teacher or expert when with a toy friend
Bossing around the imaginary friend to act out frustrations
Getting angry if the imaginary friend doesn’t do as they are told or cooperate
The child using the friend as a scapegoat to avoid consequences with parents
Projecting “preferences” onto the friend to get one’s way: Mr. Ruffles doesn’t like that movie. He wants to watch Frozen.
Conflicting Desires that Can Impair the Relationship
In this case, the relationship is one-sided and the child’s desires are being acted out, but even these can conflict. An over-active imagination might lead to:
The imaginary friend’s personality taking over (being disruptive, refusing to do as they are told, etc.), which causes the child to get angry because they aren’t in the mood for this
The imaginary friend “hiding” or showing up late, when the family is going somewhere, causing delays that or problems the child will get in trouble over
Negative Outcomes of Friction
Shouting at the imaginary friend and having them become “mad” (when the child’s regret kicks in and they realize they acted poorly)
Having hurt feelings if the friend’s imagined personality takes on a life on its own and they say or do something cruel in response
When parental pressure to give the friend up causes the child to feel self-doubt and insecurity, and this manifests in a fight with the other over their role or by questioning their importance
Fictional Scenarios That Could Turn These Characters into Allies
When the child is facing something they fear
If the child needs help coping with trauma
When child is feeling neglected or lonely
Having someone to share a decision with makes it less intimidating and creates room for bravery
When an injustice has occurred and the one defends the other
When an adversary is in their sights (an older brother, a teacher, a mean babysitter, etc.)
Ways This Relationship May Lead to Positive Change
The child gains confidence through care-taking and mentoring
A child who had a hard time advocating for herself may learn how to do so through advocating for her friend
Having someone to share trials with leads to gained courage
A child who has an imaginary friend may better process traumatic or abusive situations
A child who struggles to connect with others (due to social skills or a lack of opportunity) can gain interactive skills
An imaginary friend gives a child a safe way of exploring their deeper feelings, helping them to see how to control them (rather than be controlled by them)
A child who feels different or even weak can manifest an imaginary friend that makes them feel seen, validated, brave, protected, etc.
Themes and Symbols That Can Be Explored through This Relationship
A Fall from Grace, Alienation, Family, Freedom, Friendship, Innocence, Instability, Isolation, Loss, Love, Perseverance, Rebellion, Teamwork
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.