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.
Estranged Parent and Child
An estrangement between a parent and a child occurs when there is an absence of communication between them. Certain factors can contribute to this situation. What led to the breakdown in communication? Was there a long-term pattern of abuse, or a specific painful incident? Was the choice one-sided or mutual? Was the estranged parent or child coerced by someone else into ending the relationship? The separation of a parent and child is often a devastating scenario, creating emotional wounds and resulting dysfunctional behaviors that will influence dynamics in the character’s other relationships.
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 characters avoiding gatherings where the other may be present
The characters attending family gatherings and events but pretending the other person isn’t there
One person reaching out, but the other party rebuffing any attempts to communicate
An estrangement defined by anger, rage, jealousy, or bitterness
A reluctant estrangement that occurred out of one party’s need to protect oneself or set healthy boundaries
Deleting messages without reading, listening, or responding to them
Asking other family members not to speak about the estranged party
Running the other party down to others in an attempt to get people on the character’s side
Challenges That Could Threaten The Status Quo
The parent or child becoming ill
The death of a mutual loved one
Being approached about reconciliation by someone the character greatly respects
The parent or child experiencing a major life change, such as marriage or childbirth
Losing one’s financial stability and needing support
Needing to forgive as part of a faith-based culture, therapy program, or rehabilitative program
Another estranged sibling reconciling with the parent
One party deciding to seek forgiveness
Wounds That Could Factor into The Relationship
A loved one’s suicide, A parent’s divorce, A parent’s abandonment or rejection, A sibling’s betrayal, A toxic relationship, Abandonment over an unexpected pregnancy, Battling a mental disorder, Becoming a caregiver at an early age, Becoming homeless for reasons out of one’s control, Being disappointed by a role model, Being disowned or shunned, Being forced to keep a dark secret, Being forced to leave one’s homeland, Being raised by a narcissist, Being raised by an addict, Being raised by neglectful parents, Being raised by overprotective parents, Being raised by parents who loved conditionally, Being sent away as a child, Being the product of a rape…
Conflicting Desires that Can Impair the Relationship
One party seeking reconciliation before the other is ready
Both parties wanting to participate in family gatherings without the other present
One party forcing their belief system on the other party
Clashing Personality Trait Combinations
Discreet and Gossipy, Independent and Needy, Controlling and Rebellious, Judgmental and Oversensitive, Responsible and Uncooperative, Dishonest and Honorable, Trusting and Manipulative, Mature and Irresponsible, Nurturing and Withdrawn, Ambitious and Lazy
Negative Outcomes of Friction
Arguments or fights
Having limited access to other family members
Being left out of gatherings with loved ones
Fictional Scenarios That Could Turn These Characters into Allies
Discovering something in common that brings the two together
Both parties realizing that the reason for their estrangement was manufactured by others (they were manipulated)
One party divorcing the person who served as a wedge between the two
Ways This Relationship May Lead to Positive Change
One of the parties recognizing the importance of family
An adult learning not to repeat a negative pattern of behavior
Themes and Symbols That Can Be Explored through This Relationship
A fall from grace, Alienation, A quest for knowledge, Betrayal, Coming of age, Crossroads, Danger, Death, Deception, Depression, Disorder, Endings, Family, Freedom, Greed, Health, Hope, Illness, Instability, Isolation, Journeys, Knowledge, Loss, Love, Mystery, Obstacles, Passage of time, Peace, Pride, Rebellion, Recognition, Religion, Suffering, Transformation, Unity, Violence, 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.