Character Relationships

Rarely does a character exist in their world alone. Even films with the central premise of lonliness have some form of relationships, such as “I, Legend” where Will Smith has his canine companion by his side. This is because it’s an awful lot easier to write a script containing lots of character interaction, it helps progress the story, develop characters and create conflict.

As the years have gone one relationships have become increasingly important in films. It seems like every other movie produced is heavily entrenched in the story of a friendship, sexual relationship or family dynamics. The reason for this is simple, we all know how relationships work, or perhaps more accurately, how they don’t work. The majority of the research is already done.

One of the most interesting insights character relationships offer is how character act differently around different characters. A character who appears to be highly successful and confident may turn into a tongue-tied, blithering idiot around the partner of their dreams. Sometimes the chemistry between two characters can strengthen one while weakening the other, sometimes it weakens both character while others both characters will be stronger for the relationship.

There are four basic elements that any relationship can have. If you are writing a script based on a relationship story you might want to create the foundation for the relationship first and then fit the individual character qualities around the relationship. Keep the following character relationship elements in mind:

  • 1. The characters have a common bond that both brings and keeps them together. This is most commonly seen in “cop movies” such as Lethal Weapon. While the characters may not like each other to begin with their occupation bond keeps them together until they grow to be friends. This is an example of character attraction, there has to be some reason the characters are together and stay together, especially if they don’t like each other to begin with.
  • 2. There is conflict between the characters. Perfect relationships don’t exist, at least not as featured in movies. While sweet it means there is no room in the story for progression in the relationship. Just as there is a bond that keeps characters together there should be some sort of conflict which threatens to pull the characters apart. This could be anything from a minor difference of opinion to an extra-marital affair. The conflict in relationships provides the drama, and possibly the comedy, of a screenplay.
  • 3. The characters have contrasting qualities. They can be total opposites which creates conflict yet strengthens the individual characters through challenges since they have a partner with different qualities to fall back on. Going back to “cop movies” how many times have we seen the uptight policeman who does things by the book with a renegade partner who goes by gut instincts? A lot. That’s because the two characters compliment each other well, they become a complete crime fighting machine while being seeped in conflict.
  • 4. The relationship could transform both characters - for better or worse. Towards the end of a movie you’ll find both characters in the relationship tend to morph, and become more like each other. Soon the renegade cop becomes a little more focus and less wild while the uptight cop loosens up and is willing to break a few rules.

Those four elements have to be there in a relationship to make it work and keep it interesting for story purposes. The attraction and conflict has to be balanced otherwise the relationship would become dull and stale or the conflict would push the characters completely apart.

One of the best ways to start writing strong relationships is to think of your own relationships. Pick one to start off with, maybe the relationship between you and your closest friend. Look at the four elements above and see what it is that keeps you close and what stops you being even closer. What qualities do you share and what qualities are contrasting? How have you both changed since you’ve become friends?

Do this for a few different relationships and you’ll soon see a pattern emerging. That’s when you start to get an “inside eye” for relationships which will help your scriptwriting greatly.

Now you know how relationships work try creating a new relationship with two fresh characters. This could be the basis for a million dollar script!