How to write about a realistic relationship in your story
Learn how to test your own characters to see if they are at risk for being an unrealistic relationship!
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Movies, books, and TV shows are filled with unhealthy conditions when it comes to relationships: Edward stalks Bella to death in Twilight, Chuck and Blair argue through all six seasons of Gossip Girl, and Danny from Grease only wants to be Sandy's lover when she is cool.
Unhealthy conditions become unrealistic elements of a story that become particularly evident when translated to the big screen. Bella does not think Edward is super creepy. **SPOILER** Chuck and Blair end up with a child **SPOILER ENDING** and all the friends in Grease thought it quite natural that Sandy cannot get a boyfriend when she's herself. But that's not the bad part - in the worst cases it provides young people with a wrong view of what a relationship is.
Unrealistic unhealthy conditions
A relationship may well not be working and still be okay to write about! As long as it is not presented as a healthy relationship.
Especially be aware of the invisible but unhealthy conditions covered here:
Stalker - Edward and Bella
This version is seen in many eerie books where one party stalks another eerily too much - and the other party (often the protagonist) just thinks it's sweet. And yes, it can be a little sweet when your crush browses a little through your Instagram profile. However, it is not as sweet as he begins to tell a detailed story about the first time he saw you when you were children, how your hair was, and how he has been in love with you ever since.
In my current novel I have personally dealt with a guy who - because he was on a secret mission - had to follow my main character a lot and this way avoid their relationship being unrealistic. I also let her react realistically: by flipping out at the idea that this guy is stalking her. For indeed, although he has a reason to follow her - and she knows it - she will respond differently than if it was a random guy just suddenly appearing at her little sister's funeral.
There are things that just don't work well together - Chuck and Blair
This relationship clearly doesn't work very well. And with this one kind of relationship it is harder to balance things in respect to the characters. Chuck and Blair are one of those couples who love each other, but still cannot be together. Things go wrong when the characters fail to take care of themselves. They'll last, a little while anyway and in time enough to destroy each other, in what would not be a worthy endeavor.
The immoral couple - Danny and Sandy
It's not that all literature must be politically correct, but when a couple gives a negative message, like "you have to change yourself to get a boyfriend," then it's reached its limit. Everything must be perfect, but especially youth novels have a big impact on the reader because he / she is still in a ladle, where he / she creates her identity. And then there's some incorrect values to get by on.
The unrealistic "perfect" relationship
Just as there is Mary Sue (the perfect girl) and Gary Sue (the good boy), there are a few others too good to be true relationships. Not necessarily, because it is a Mary Sue and Gary Sue, but because the relationship is absolutely perfect. No bickering. Just a long "I love you" - "No, I love you more!" Just as with a Mary Sue character, the reader gets distracted by such a relationship , even if the boyfriend is just a minor character.
A relationship may well be without problems, but when it gets soppy with big red roses and chocolates the reader will not be able to take it any longer.
How do you create a realistic relationship?
Now we know the "danger zones" and what some of the unrealistic conditions are, but besides just avoiding these types, how do you create such a realistic relationship?
Know your characters
The better you know your characters, the more realistic the conditions. The more thorough you are in writing about your character's relationship greater the chance that it'll be a more realistic relationship too.
Give them their special little things
You may have used this symbolic stuff in your writing before - where you give something in a relationship a special meaning. For example, for America Glass it was pennies, which she got from Aspen in The Selection. This can help to ensure that there will be more depth in the relationship.
Let things go wrong
They may bicker over things. Things are allowed to be complicated. Everything is not going to be rosy all the time.
Use their backstory
The background story is your character's backbone - and if you can get it into a relationship - it becomes even stronger. For example, I have a character who has been in a car accident. She will probably spend a lot of time worrying about whether that could happen with the other character she is madly in love with.
Get it down to a phrase
One thing I often do is boil everything in my story down to one sentence in answering - Why are they lovers? Why did they fall for each other? Why did it happen? In another example, I have a Jewish character in my story who sat alone in an attic. On the other hand I also have a Nazi only child, who is about to lose his best friend. The girl falls for the boy because he shows her the "truth" (teacher her anti-Nazism). The boy falls in love with the girl because she is a piece of the world he could get. Additionally, they are both lonely - he is alone, she has no siblings and loses her friend - so it's all very natural that they fall for each other ;-)
Of course people fall for each other just because they are in love, but it's always good to have a "reason" behind it.
Test your characters' relationship
Start with one of your character's relationships and find out if it might need to be tweaked again.
Is one character following/pursuing/chasing after your second character?
A. No, not at all.
B. A little bit.
C. Yes ...
If yes, how responsive is the pursued character then?
A. He / she thinks that it's creepy and confronts the other party.
B. She does not respond to it.
C. She thinks it's sweet
Do your characters in a relationship fight with each other?
A. Oh no.
How is the morale of the relationship?
A. Positive example, "Love can do everything."
B. Negative but for reasons such as "Love can destroy you." (It's negative, but it may be the truth and is not technically unethical)
C. Negative example "You have to change yourself to be loved."
Is the relationship a relationship that you yourself wish you had?
A. Yes, they are cute together, but it is not always easy.
B. No, it's too devastating ...
C. Yes, that is my dream relationship!
How often do the kissing couples tell each other they love each other?
A. Now and then, when it fits.
B. Once in every chapter
C. Several times in each chapter!
Could you see this relationship for you in real life (if you must be honest)?
B. Well ...
A: 0 points
B: 1 point
C: 2 points
It should be noted that this test will only point in one direction, and you get to essentially come up with the answers.
0-5 points - Your relationship is quite realistic!
6-9 points - Maybe you should double check the character's reasons again ;-)
10-13 points - Take a closer look at this and see if you can make the relationships more realistic!
How did your characters score in the test?
Thanks to Sofie R. E. for writing this blog post and designing the banner!