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.
Not best friends or acquaintances, friends fall somewhere in between. These people interact socially; they may somewhat know each another or know one another within a wider group of friends. Because of the nature of this relationship, it can give rise to themes of journeys, trust, and growth.
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.
Spending time together regularly, but not with the closeness of best friends
Knowing one another well enough to ask for help if needed
Getting together occasionally or within a larger group of friends
Participating only in surface-level conversation; not knowing one another intimately
A friendship that only exists online (through social media, a chat app, on a discussion board for a shared interest, etc.)
Only feeling comfortable with each other when a mutual friend is present
Only interacting when necessary–such as at work or in specific social functions
One person being more invested in the friendship than the other
Not having contact except when it is an absolute must
Challenges That Could Threaten The Status Quo
A mutual friend becoming jealous of the friendship
A new friend entering the picture and taking up more of one party’s social time
One party entering a new stage of life that doesn’t include the other person (getting married, having a child, achieving professional success, etc.)
One party changing their circle of friends
One party becoming romantically involved with the friend’s ex
An unfortunate event that results in one party requiring a lot of help (the death of a spouse, losing their home or job, etc.)
One person in a mutual group of friends throwing a party and not inviting the character
One person not agreeing with the other party’s choices (regarding parenting, dating, addictions, etc.)
One person crossing personal boundaries (in regard to communication, physical touch, etc.)
One party claiming they know the other person better than they do
Conflict between the friends’ children
One friend hearing or spreading a rumor about the other
A drastic change in one person’s religious or political ideology
The parties being pressured to take sides in a spat between mutual friends
One friend unknowingly discussing a topic that is a trigger for the other person
One party starting a business that competes with the friend’s
One person’s drama bleeding into the relationship
One party breaking trust and revealing privately shared information about the friend
Their adult children becoming romantically involved, and either party not approving of the relationship
Conflicting Desires that Can Impair the Relationship
One person wanting to spend more or less time together than the other person
One person wanting to control the other person
One person wanting to be more than friends
One person wanting to keep a secret that the other person wants to reveal
One friend wanting the other friend to lie for them
One party wanting to discuss unpleasant or difficult topics that the other would rather avoid
One friend wanting financial or career help that the other person is reluctant to offer for free
One friend wanting a deeply personal favor from the other friend
One party infiltrating an area of the other’s life (activity, hobby, church, workplace, etc.) while the other person wants that area for him or herself
One friend wanting to know more about the other person than they’re willing to share
Clashing Personality Trait Combinations
Cautious and Reckless, Adventurous and Timid, Extroverted and Introverted, Generous and Greedy, Independent and Needy, Optimistic and Pessimistic, Persuasive and Weak-Willed, Loyal and Gossipy
Negative Outcomes of Friction
One person distancing themselves from the other
One person having increasingly negative thoughts about the other
A mutual friend becoming a wedge between the two
One person becoming more and more afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing
The friendship becoming imbalanced, with one person being more loyal, generous, or forgiving than the other
Negative experiences in this friendship impacting future relationships
Feeling left out or less important
Having to lie to avoid the other person
Resentment building because one person feels obligated to help the friend or nurture the relationship
One friend morally corrupting the other
Not intervening when one should because of a lack of intimacy
Fictional Scenarios That Could Turn These Characters into Allies
Discovering a shared trauma that deepens the emotional connection between them
One person helping the other with finances, child care, medical support, etc.
Finding a common bond in a hobby or interest
Going through something traumatic together
Pursuing a joint business venture
Having to protect the same secret
One friend having a skill or talent that can help the other
Coming together to help a third party
The children of the parties becoming friends
Ways This Relationship May Lead to Positive Change
Learning to let someone new into one’s life
Widening one’s social circle through mutual contacts and new activities
Expanding one’s knowledge of different backgrounds
Being exposed to new things
Mutual respect making both parties more open to each other’s ideas
One party becoming more like the other party (in a good way)
Finding purpose in helping a friend through a difficult time
Themes and Symbols That Can Be Explored through This Relationship
Alienation, Beginnings, Betrayal, Deception, Endings, Family, Friendship, Hope, Instability, Isolation, Journeys, Loss, Love, Passage of time, Refuge, Stagnation, Teamwork, Transformation, Unity, 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.
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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.