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.
Benefactor and Recipient
Sometimes, a person with ample financial resources may decide to share that excess with someone who could benefit from them. Introducing money into any relationship has the potential to create strife and alter the dynamics. And the inherent imbalance in this relationship will require both parties to progress carefully and thoughtfully if conflict is to be avoided.
Notable Examples: Great Expectations (Estella and Ms. Havisham), Indecent Proposal (Diana Murphy and John), As Good as it Gets (Melvin Udall and Carol Connelly)
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 benefactor and recipient who have a close relationship before the gifting
A relationship that grows beyond the financial arrangement and becomes personally fulfilling
A mutually beneficial arrangement that is largely transactional
A recipient becoming overly dependent on the benefactor
A benefactor whose “gift” comes with strings attached, and a recipient who feels obligated because of the gift
The gift thrusting a reluctant recipient into the limelight, leading to resentment
A recipient using the gift in a way the benefactor did not intend, causing strife
A recipient becoming entitled and expecting more resources from a benefactor who has trouble saying no
A congenial relationship becoming strained over time
Challenges That Could Threaten The Status Quo
The recipient struggling with self-doubt and a lack of confidence for being unable to care for themselves
The recipient asking for more help than the benefactor wanted to give
A third-party challenging the legality of the arrangement
The benefactor slipping into financial ruin before or after the gift is given
The benefactor becoming aware (after the fact) that the recipient lied about their difficult financial position
The recipient using the money in a way the benefactor doesn’t approve of
The recipient discovering that the money they received was “dirty”
A humble and introverted benefactor receiving unwanted attention for their actions
The recipient’s life worsening in some ways because of the gift (when fair-weather friends re-enter their life, relatives begin asking for money, the windfall causes strife in their marriage, etc.)
The recipient bragging about the gift and being targeted by thieves
Family members of the benefactor resenting their generosity
Conflicting Desires that Can Impair the Relationship
The recipient wanting more financial help than the benefactor is willing to provide
The benefactor wanting a reluctant recipient to become a surrogate son or daughter
The benefactor wanting to control or manipulate the recipient
Either party wanting to keep the charitable act a secret (while the other does not)
The benefactor wanting more gratitude than the recipient is comfortable expressing
Either party wanting a relationship beyond what the other wants
Clashing Personality Trait Combinations
Independent and Needy, Controlling and Weak-Willed, Trusting and Manipulative, Responsible and Uncooperative, Trustworthy and Dishonest, Cautious and Reckless
Negative Outcomes of Friction
Arguments and fights
Feelings of self-righteousness, entitlement, resentment, or anger
The recipient feeling a weight of debt, as if they owe something they can never repay
The parties becoming estranged
Either party having trouble setting or maintaining healthy boundaries
The recipient returning the money and continuing to suffer with financial difficulty
Tension with family members who disagree with either party’s choices
Fictional Scenarios That Could Turn These Characters into Allies
The two parties discovering a meaningful personal connection beyond finances
The recipient deciding to pass it on and help someone else in need
Both parties working together to avoid paying the taxes associated with the transaction
The benefactor taking a genuine interest in the recipient’s business venture or philanthropic cause
Either party fulfilling a relationship void for the other person
Ways This Relationship May Lead to Positive Change
A disadvantaged person accessing opportunities that might otherwise be out of reach
Either party becoming more humble, grounded, and gracious
The act of giving being so life-changing for the benefactor that they decide to do more of it
The recipient being able to leave a toxic or dangerous lifestyle because of the monetary gift
The benefactor modeling charitable acts and inspiring others
Either party considering the needs of others
The recipient sharing the financial gift with someone else in need
Themes and Symbols That Can Be Explored through This Relationship
A fall from grace, Beginnings, Deception, Depression, Family, Freedom, Friendship, Greed, Hope, Loss, Obstacles, Pride, Refuge, Suffering, Transformation, Unity, 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.
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.