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.
More than rivals or competitors, enemies are people who are actively working to defeat or destroy the other. The reason for their animosity may be personal, stemming from a shared past experience, or it may simply be a matter of them working at cross-purposes and blocking each other from reaching their respective goals. The richness in this relationship comes from the fact that both parties believe in their own rightness. Writing a dynamic and interesting pair of enemies requires a carefully exploration of the relationship’s complexity so they don’t veer into cliché, unsympathetic, or flat-character territory.
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.
Enemies who are both seeking the same resource or objective, and defeating the other party is a necessary part of their success
Two people who are actively seeking to destroy one another
Enemies who used to be friends or allies, with a shared history
Enemies who are part of the same team but are secretly working against each other
Challenges That Could Threaten The Status Quo
One person asking for a truce
One party being taken out by a serious illness or injury
A powerful third-party demanding an end to the feud
One party discovering a damning secret about the other
The two being physically trapped in the same space
Both parties losing something of value
A common enemy entering the picture
One party joining forces with a stronger and better connected person or entity, disrupting the balance of power
One person having an epiphany about past mistakes or their role in the relationship
One person seeking forgiveness in order to heal
Clashing Personality Trait Combinations
Cautious and Reckless, Unethical and Honorable, Confrontational and Timid, Perfectionist and Talented, Mature and Irresponsible
Negative Outcomes of Friction
Anxiety and depression
Arguments and fights
Self-blame for not handling the situation better
Publicly trashing one another
Difficulty trusting others
Becoming fixated on defeating the other person
Missing important events because the other person will be present
Losing friends and family members who take sides
The animosity escalating into abusive or violent behavior
Seeing no way out of the conflict
Being targeted by the friends and family members of one’s enemy
Fictional Scenarios That Could Turn These Characters into Allies
Both parties realizing they have a common goal
Both parties needing to keep a secret
A business venture or financial opportunity that requires both to participate
An event that forces the two into close proximity (a family reunion, them being held hostage or getting lost together, etc.)
Putting differences aside to present a united front against a more threatening enemy
Discovering that the feud was based on a lie
One party altering their religious, political, or cultural beliefs
Romantic feelings developing between the two
A third-party encouraging reconciliation
Ways This Relationship May Lead to Positive Change
The character recognizing their role in the relationship and taking accountability for their actions
The enemies breaking a cycle of hatred
One party learning to seek and extend forgiveness
Either person learning to see the situation from the other’s perspective
The character recognizing unhealthy thought patterns and behaviors
Either party refusing to engage with their enemy, thereby diffusing the situation
Themes and Symbols That Can Be Explored through This Relationship
A fall from grace, Betrayal, Danger, Death, Deception, Friendship, Inflexibility, Isolation, Journeys, Love, Peace, Suffering, 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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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.