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.
Professional and Client
Description: A professional is hired by a client who is in need of their expertise and services, either for a particular project or in perpetuity. This relationship is based on trust and mutual respect. The client depends on the skill and guidance of the professional, while the professional depends on the client’s clear vision and expectations. Examples of this kind of relationship include a lawyer and client, doctor and patient, and a graphic designer and client.
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 purely professional relationship where both parties reach a satisfied outcome
A professional who listens to a client’s needs and understands their objective
A client who is clear about what they want and engaged in the professional’s process
A client who trusts and respects the skills and experience of a professional
A professional who is clear with the client about realistic outcomes
A professional who meets a client’s needs but who takes advantage of them financially
A client who makes demands that are beyond the professional’s scope of work
A professional who agrees to provide a product or service that’s beyond their capability
A professional who fails to deliver the services a client needed or expected
A professional who overstates their ability to meet the needs of a client
A client who questions and challenges the expertise of the professional
A professional who fails to listen to the client and exercises their own opinion
Both parties vying for control over the outcome
Challenges That Could Threaten The Status Quo
A professional requesting more money than the original agreement
A client changing their objective after the work has already started
Either party overstepping the terms of the agreement
A professional failing to communicate with the client after being hired
A client falling into financial hardship after work has begun
A professional realizing that the scope of work is greater than they originally believed
The client receiving external advice that conflicts with the professional’s guidance
A professional missing deadlines or failing to check-in with the client
Wounds That Could Factor into the Relationship
An abuse of power, Being fired or laid off, Being forced to keep a dark secret, Being humiliated by others, Being let down by a trusted organization or social system, Being rejected by one’s peers, Cracking under pressure, Declaring bankruptcy, Losing a loved one due to a professional’s negligence, Making a very public mistake, Misplaced loyalty, Poor judgment leading to unintended consequences, Prejudice or discrimination, Social difficulties
Conflicting Desires that Can Impair the Relationship
The professional having a different vision than the client
Both parties vying for control of a project
The client wanting to offer feedback and the professional not wanting to hear it
The professional wanting specific feedback from a client who is too afraid to step on toes
One party wanting more or less communication than the other party
At the conclusion of the project, one party wanting to work together again in the future while the other does not
The client wanting more time and attention than the professional is wiling to give
Clashing Personality Trait Combinations
Discreet and Gossipy, Independent and Needy, Controlling and Weak-Willed, Persuasive and Gullible, Efficient and Scatterbrained, Generous and Greedy, Judgmental and Oversensitive, Inflexible and Spontaneous
Negative Outcomes of Friction
The client providing poor professional reviews for the professional
One party losing the trust or respect of the other
Either party terminating the agreement, resulting in lost resources
The client refusing to pay for services
The professional’s deliverable not being what the client needed or wanted
Having to redo a project
The professional violating the privacy rights of the client
The professional feeling inadequate at the hands of a controlling client
Fictional Scenarios That Could Turn These Characters into Allies
Experiencing empathy after finding common personal ground
Discovering that the professional once worked with the client’s nemesis and they feel the same way about him
A similar project being worked on by a rival, turning the two parties into a team determined to produce the better outcome
The project being held hostage by someone vindictive or unethical (an inspector, the HOA president, the client’s spouse, etc.), resulting in a common enemy for them to overcome
Achieving a successful outcome that garners external accolades for both parties
Ways This Relationship May Lead to Positive Change
The client receiving advice that changes the course of their life
Bringing a client’s vision to life and helping them meet their goals
The client referring an influential friend or business associate to the professional
Encouraging or advising a client to make a bold move that yields success
Mutual respect making both parties open to one another’s ideas
The professional expanding their skill set to meet a client’s needs
A client who resists help learning to accept it
Two people coming together who might otherwise not interact
A professional who prefers to work alone learning to collaborate
Themes and Symbols That Can Be Explored through This Relationship
A quest for knowledge, Beauty, Beginnings, Betrayal, Crossroads, Deception, Depression, Disorder, Endings, Freedom, Friendship, Greed, Health, Hope, Inflexibility, Isolation, Journeys, Knowledge, Loss, Love, Mystery, Obstacles, Order, Peace, Perseverance, Pride, Recognition, Religion, Sacrifice, Stagnation, Suffering, Superstitions: bad luck, Superstitions: good luck, Teamwork, Transformation, Unity, Vulnerability, Wealth
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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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.