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.
Description: Frenemies are friends or acquaintances who are also, on some level, rivals or adversaries. Maybe they have to get along on a sports team or at work but they’re vying for the same position. Perhaps insecurities accentuate the negative aspects of the relationship and stifle the positives. Personal politics may require them to maintain a veneer of friendliness, but at its core, the relationship is more about winning or exerting power. The frenemy relationship is a complex one that, if it fits your story, can add a ton of conflict and depth.
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.
Characters getting along fine until a competitive element is introduced, at which point they go for blood
Athletic teammates cooperating to get a win but dedicating themselves personally to outdoing each other
One friend being reluctant to share information or cooperate with their frenemy co-worker or teammate because they don’t trust the other person’s motives
Both parties putting on a friendly front when they’re around other people but secretly not wanting anything to do with the other
One party alternating from friendliness and respect to manipulation and snubbing, constantly putting the other person off-balance
A superficial and disingenuous relationship that’s based on keeping one’s friends close but their enemies closer
Two parties not really liking each other but maintaining a civil relationship due to a long history together
Two people being fine one-on-one but turning into rivals when other friends or romantic interests enter the scene
One character constantly being sucked back into relationship with the frenemy despite a desire to steer clear
Two parties being best friends one day and not speaking to each other next (in a repeating, ongoing pattern)
One person never knowing where they stand with the other party
Being friends with someone who is super nice to the character’s face but is subtly undermining them behind the scenes
One party being so manipulated and gaslighted by the other person that they can’t see their faults or true nature—even when true friends and loved ones point them out
One “friend” always competing with the other (usually in an underhanded fashion), trying to take what they have
Challenges that Could Threaten the Status Quo
A third party (a coach, romantic interest, shared enemy, etc.) changing the dynamic between the two characters
One person developing a weakness or vulnerability that the other can exploit
Either of the parties achieving something significant
One person finding themselves on the outs with their shared social group
One party circulating negative information (true or false) about the other person
One party developing empathy for the other
A change that results in less time being spent together
Losing the one person or thing that keeps the two together
One party giving up and refusing to compete or fight with the other
Wounds that Could Factor into the Relationship
A learning disability, A parent’s abandonment or rejection, A toxic relationship, An abuse of power, Battling a mental disorder, Being bullied, Being disowned or shunned, Being raised by a narcissist, Being rejected by one’s peers, Being the victim of a vicious rumor, Growing up in the shadow of a successful sibling, Having parents who favored one child over another
Conflicting Desires that Can Impair the Relationship
Both parties wanting to be the best at the same thing
Both parties seeking acceptance from the same person
One person seeking friendship while the other wants to control, manipulate, or minimize him/her
One friend wanting to clear the air and improve the relationship while the other wants to maintain the status quo
One person wanting to escape the relationship while the other wants to maintain it
Clashing Personality Trait Combinations
Needy and cruel, Confrontational and Timid, Controlling and Subservient, Trusting and Manipulative, Gossipy and Private, Mischievous and Humorless, Reckless and Responsible
Negative Outcomes of Friction
Someone’s reputation being ruined
Arguments and cat fights
The larger group losing something vital because the two people can’t work together
Other people being dragged into the frenemies’ drama
One party being ousted from the whole social group and being left on their own
The victim of a manipulative or devious frenemy doubting themselves and becoming insecure
The frenemies losing good friends who are tired of dealing with them
Either person continuing the same negative behaviors in their other relationships
A third party being hurt in the verbal or physical crossfire
Fictional Scenarios That Could Turn These Characters into Allies
Facing a new, mutual threat
A desperate situation in which each person has a skill or knowledge that the other person needs to survive
Instead of competing against one another, being forced to work together to win
A personal tragedy for one person that generates empathy from the other, humanizing that person and making the other party want to help
One party learning about the other’s past (why they are the way they are), resulting in them wanting to mend fences and help the other person instead of bring them down
The two realizing that they have been pitted against each other by an outside source
Ways This Relationship May Lead to Positive Change
Either party recognizing and valuing their own strengths and weaknesses (instead of envying and wanting what the other has)
The competition pushing each person to be better than they could have been on their own
One person recognizing that the friction is largely their own fault, and wanting to change for the better
One party recognizing that the relationship is toxic, and getting out of it
Either party (or both) learning to value the other’s strengths and uniqueness and ceasing to be threatened by it
Themes and Symbols That Can Be Explored through This Relationship
A fall from grace, Alienation, Betrayal, Coming of age, Deception, Friendship, Instability, Journeys, Teamwork
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.