Sunday, December 16, 2012

Your Relationships: An Analysis

Writing relationships between characters is hard.

In today's day and age, it's easy to want to jump straight into the: "You're gorgeous and mysterious--now I love you!" mentality. I'm not going to knock it, because I'm a fan of that myself. But sometimes you want your characters to have some depth. You want their relationship to grow organically (I hate that word, btw), so it's so fluid and natural you can't pinpoint the exact moment when it changed.

For excellent examples of this, watch a soap opera. Or Vampire Diaries on the CW. Kevin Williamson is a genius. Plain and simple. I mean, honestly. Did you ever think Damon could go from snapping Jeremy's neck and Elena despising him to the end of season three when she admitted to Stefan she had feelings for Damon? Or that Klaus could go from being THE MOST HORRIBLE PERSON EVER to people shipping him and Caroline? Can you think back and find the moment their relationships took a turning point? Can you pinpoint that exact moment in time when everything between them changed? Or was it just a series of events over a course of time that changed everything?

I've been thinking about that a lot lately. I have a friend at work, a good friend, who wasn't really a friend at all when we met. In fact, I'm pretty sure this coworker didn't like me, and I wasn't too fond of the coworker either. Not that my coworker was a bad person--the coworker just kind of rubbed me the wrong way. (Note my obvious exclusion of pronouns?) Let's call this person Charlie. It's a unisex now, right?

So, anyway. Charlie and I were polite to one another in the beginning, but we probably didn't talk for more than an hour directly to one another in the first few months after I started the job. And now, a little over a year later, I found myself whining at work that I missed Charlie, who's currently out of the office.

It surprised me, really, and I found myself thinking about how this great evolution happened. As I said, it's been over a year. And because I was so intrigued by this, I started putting the pieces together step-by-step, in chronological order, trying to figure out when and where we had gone from polite, to friendly, to friends, to close friends.

Turns out, it's not possible.

I'll summarize for you:
  • Polite to each other.
  • Got stuck in a situation where we had to interact every day on a polite level.
  • Needed advice from Charlie on some work stuff at various times, which lead to me voicing frustrations about situations. (Read: opening up. But, note, Charlie did not do the same, which didn't build trust with me.)
  • Started joking together and becoming more friendly.
  • Was removed from the situation where we had to interact every day, and fell back into a cross between politeness and friendliness.
  • Got stuck in a new situation where we had to interact less than every day, but a forced interaction nonetheless.
  • I started having problems with a coworker, and during random talks voiced frustrations about the coworker.
  • This part is important: At the same time, Charlie also started having trouble with some coworkers, so my complaining led to Charlie agreeing with me and us commiserating together. (Here is where we started to build some trust and understanding. I opened up, and Charlie did, too.)
  • Started understanding where Charlie was coming from because of all the times Charlie had complained, and was therefore able to act as a support with others.
  • Started seeing Charlie start to say things for me that I couldn't, for one reason or another. (Here is where gratitude and admiration start to build.)

And thus, despite Charlie and I being completely different people with completely different ethics and vehement opinions on things like politics and religion, we somehow ended up becoming friends. But it happened slowly, and over a long period of time.

Analyzing my friendship with Charlie made me realize why I can't find a moment when Damon and Elena's relationship changed. When Klaus and Caroline's relationship changed. There is no defining moment. There are a series of circumstances that tie people together if the timing is right.

And it made me realize how relationships need to grow in my stories as well. How an endless series of dominoes need to fall and align just right for people to connect. It makes me think more about the circumstances surrounding them, and now I find it takes me twice as long to write something because I'm trying to see it from every side of the canvas, wondering if each character is acting the way they want to, or the way I want them do. If they're building their relationship in a meaningful way, or if they're just together because I've thrown them together.

And, hopefully, it will serve me well.