It Takes Two to Tangle, in real life and in storytelling. But, whether a fictional connection is romantic or not, the other person in your main character's relationship exists, mainly, for the purpose of moving and intensifying your hero's story.
The second character gives your hero someone to talk to, moves her thoughts into dialogue. Which cuts down on internal monologue that slows the pace of the story. Dialogue appears more active on the page than paragraphs of uninterrupted narrative, and more active to the reader's consciousness also. This dialogue must, of course be interesting and compelling.
How do you make dialogue interesting? First, by creating a complex, fascinating story mate to match your complex, fascinating hero. A mate whose opinions and attitudes differ from those of your main character. They may be mates in general, but they debate, irritate one another, and even openly conflict on occasion.
These conflicts are usually variations in attitude rather than violent disagreements. They force your hero to articulate her feelings and beliefs. This allows your reader to know her better and identify more closely with her, which is critical to hooking the reader into your story.
The second character need not be portrayed as sympathetically as the hero. This mate character may be in the process of evolving, with something major yet to learn in life. He or she may or may not accomplish that goal in this story, unlike your hero who must learn and grow.
You should also contrast these two characters in more external ways. Family and cultural background, life experience, economic and social status, physical appearance. These differences provide potential for fireworks in the relationship, which may be sexual or not. Either way, they enflame reader interest, and that heat serves your storytelling purpose.
In real life, we prefer people to get along, but, in fiction, too much harmony is boring. Conflict in a story relationship makes that story more interesting. However, you, as author, must understand what storytelling conflict is. Banter back and forth between characters, no matter how clever, is not strong enough conflict to create compelling fiction.
There must be a crucial problem between the characters for real conflict to occur. The greater the problem, the more intense the trouble between them becomes, and intense conflict is the heart of strong storytelling. These two characters may basically like, or even love, each other, but if they get along too well for chapter after chapter, they lose the reader's interest.
You must create characters with the potential for legitimate contention between them. Most importantly, create an active hero with the strength to stand up for herself and what she believes, and to defy opposition. She is a person who refuses to remain passive while bad things happen to her, or to those she cares about. This portrayal makes her defiance believable.
Next, create a mate character strong enough to be a worthy adversary. Now, you have a relationship that is a juxtaposition of equals, with potential for true tension between them. Without this tension, conflict that grips your reader will fail to ignite. With this tension, and the sparks it produces, the relationship, and your storytelling, set fire to the page.
For more insights into writing and publishing, visit my blog at www.aliceorrbooks.com.
Alice Orr is author of 16 novels, 3 novellas, a memoir and No More Rejections: 50 Secrets to Writing a Manuscript that Sells. A former book editor and literary agent, Alice now writes full-time. Her latest novel is A Time of Fear and Loving – Riverton Road Romantic Suspense Series Book 5. Find all of Alice Orr's books at amazon.com and other online retailers. Alice has two grown children and two perfect grandchildren and lives with her beloved husband Jonathan in New York City.
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