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February #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop: 15 Relationship Archetypes to Inspire Your Next Story

In honor of February, I wanted to dedicate this month to relationships. More specifically, how to write relationships in fiction. And while we may not all be writing romance, relationships are a vital element to any work of fiction. How our characters interact and what bonds them is key to writing a story that draws readers in and keeps them invested in what happens to these characters.

In this post I've compiled a list of 15 different archetypes that you can use to jump start the relationships in your story. And while of course not all relationships are romantic, I made sure to include platonic and familial relationships that can add another layer of complexity and strengthen your plot.

I like to think of archetypes as building blocks that function as a foundation that you can work upon to design elaborate and unique story ideas. Using examples of established concepts that have worked in other stories has been incredibly helpful to me in learning what works in storytelling and what doesn't. Or perhaps more importantly, what sells and what doesn't. But more so, they can be a creative lifesaver to those of us feeling stuck in a pattern of the same regurgitated ideas. 

So hopefully some of these archetypes are helpful or inspire you in some way in your writing. If you're writing a romance or a romantic subplot, you may also be interested in the video I did on How to Build Romantic Tension: A Study of Pride and Prejudice which you can watch over on my Youtube channel.

15 Relationship Archetypes to Inspire Your Next Story:

Star-crossed Lovers
Fate has dealt this couple a difficult hand as either family or societal expectations stand in the way of their happy ending.

Examples: Romeo & Juliet, Jack and Ennis in Brokeback Mountain, Cecilia and Robbie in Atonement.

Dream Girl/Pining Boy
Of course the concept applies to either gender and same-sex couples, but this pairing involves a lonely character with their sight set on a someone they see as superior to them in some way. A part of their attraction to their love interest is the validation they seek to achieve in winning his or her heart.

Examples: Pete and Rosalee in Win a Date with Tad Hamilton, Cameron and Bianca in 10 Things I Hate About You, Penny Lane and William Miller in Almost Famous, and I would argue, Carrie and Mr. Big's relationship in Sex and the City.

Best Friends
These characters are thick as thieves and always have each other's backs. This relationship might seem boring on the surface, but the best friend is your protagonist's emotional touchstone and the person they confide in the most. They bring strength out of one another and encourage each other through life's biggest hurdles.

Examples: Sam and Frodo in Lord of the Rings, Buffy and Xander in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Harry and Ron in Harry Potter.

This relationship is complex, as you can never quite tell where the two stand on any given day. Sometimes they're getting along and other times they are at each other's throats! Something about the other draws them in and while they may share a history and a few commonalities, it's never quite enough to sustain a real friendship.

Examples: Cady Heron and Regina George in Mean Girls, Rachel and Darcy in Something Borrowed, Jenna and Lucy in 13 Going on 30.

This is a relationship that develops from a basic student/teacher dynamic to a relationship of mutual understanding and a deeper love and/or respect. The teacher may not necessarily be an educator in a professional sense, but someone with the skills and knowledge that the student needs to learn in order to achieve their goals. Often, the student becomes the teacher as they uncover lessons that the teacher still needs to learn. Sometimes this relationship is forced on the pair and other times it is created out of necessity.

Examples: Daniel and Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid, Harry and Dumbledore in Harry Potter, Will and Sean in Good Will Hunting, JD and Dr. Cox in Scrubs.

Colleagues or Teammates
Personally, I find this relationship rather interesting as it not one of choice, but created out of similar interests and a shared goal. These are people brought together by chance and they may come from completely different backgrounds that may clash from time to time, but must ultimately find a way to work together in order to pursue their shared goal. Often, you'll find these relationships of happenstance developing into something more of a genuine friendship, or at the least, a deep respect.

Examples: Gerry and Julius in Remember the Titans, Jim and Dwight in The Office, and pretty much all of the relationships in the television show Glee. 

Not necessarily a blood kinship, this is one of the deepest relationships two characters can share. Unless the relationship is strained, the parent will give anything up for the well being of the child and the child strives for the parent's admiration and acceptance. When the parent/child relationship is out of balance, this will cause serious emotional ramifications for both characters.

Examples: Carrie and her mother in Carrie, Marilla and Anne in Anne of Green Gables, Laura Ingalls and Pa in Little House on the Prairie, Buffy and Giles in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Former Flames
These characters were once lovers that separated and have been reunited for one reason or another. Unlike other kinds of relationships, they know the other intimately in a way that few others do. Whether or not the romantic spark is still there remains to be seen and the audience will sit on the edge of their seats waiting to find out.

Examples: Noah and Allie in The Notebook, Gatsby and Daisy in The Great Gatsby, Anne and Frederick in Persuasion.

The Fake Couple
This couple is using their faux-romance as a means to an end. The two have come together in the right place at the right time. Achieving their goals means convincing the world that these two are crazy about each other. Sometimes, the couple's acting is so convincing that they actually fall in love!

Examples: Margaret and Andrew in The Proposal, Lara Jean and Peter in To All the Boys I've Loved Before, Andie and Ben in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.

These two come from drastically different backgrounds, but covet something about the other. The ruler has known privilege yet burdensome responsibility his whole life, while the subject may feel freedom but deprivation. Each of the two wants to know what life is like in the other's shoes and what ensues as a result is often very entertaining.

Examples: The Prince and the Pauper, Danielle and Henry in Ever After.

These two are brought together by a traumatic experience and one is charged with the well-being of the other either by necessity or a perceived calling. Sometimes this relationship can develop into romance, but often the roles will reverse as the patient heals something in the caregiver in a way they might never have known they needed.

Examples: Louisa and Will in Me Before You, Annie and Grayer in The Nanny Diaries, Ben and Emily in 7 Pounds.

There is no love lost in this pairing and yet these two share something intimate in their unending rivalry. While the two have very separate goals and motivations, there are often similarities between the two that infuriate both parties all the more. They each share valuable insight that may not sway the other to their side, but will broaden their perspectives and they will often learn a lesson that ultimately strengthens them.

Examples: Batman and the Joker in The Dark Knight, Harry and Voldemort in Harry Potter, Buffy and Faith in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

These two share a connection that is inexplicable, but as deep as any relationship decades in the making. Whether by fate, magic or divine intervention, these two are destined to be together. Unlike the star-crossed lovers, these two defy the odds. Together they are unbreakable.

Examples: Rey and Ben Solo in Star Wars, Chris and Annie in What Dreams May Come, Jonathan and Sara in Serendipity, Feyre and Rhysand in A Court of Thorns and Roses, Westley and Buttercup in The Princess Bride.

The Brains/The Brawn
This is the pairing that you'd least expect: two completely different people who wouldn't ordinarily choose to interact. They are, however, forced together in pursuit of a common goal. What ultimately makes them a power couple is that one's strengths complement the other's shortcomings.

Examples: Lee and Carter in Rush Hour, Tommy and Richard in Tommy Boy.

The Rebel/The Law
This relationship is tense, to say the least. While their opposing beliefs will inevitably clash, the two find a respect for the other's convictions and own moral code. Typically in these relationships, one or both characters need something from the other that forces them to interact and get to know one another on a deeper level.

Examples: Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon, Ashley Judd and Tommy Lee Jones in Double Jeopardy.

Those are 15 relationship archetypes to help inspire your next story! Which one is your favorite? Did I miss any? Let me know in the comments!

This post is part of the February 2020 Author Toolbox Blog Hop, hosted by Raimey Gallant. Be sure to check out the rest of the awesome bloggers here!

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  1. It was good to see the inclusion of adversaries as a relationship. Many people don’t consider it. Very informative piece. Thanks

    1. Thanks for reading! I also have a special appreciation for that relationship. :)

  2. I really like archetypes, particularly a set. I like understanding the different possibilities, the different types or pillars/poles of the spectrum, if you will. I find that most things are simultaneously moving towards and away from 1 or more extremes, so an awareness of the archetypes can help one recognize how a character is at least partially “the patient” or “the frenemy.” Much like mixing colors, it can be interesting to say experiment, try combining odd combinations, like the “soulmates” and “frenemies” or “adversaries.”

    Even if it wasn’t consciously in the creator’s mind, audiences will often see these archetypes in the characters, so it’s good to maintain an awareness of what audiences might assume or expect.

    And if I find myself staring at a blank page with no idea what to write about, I can turn to my list of archetypes and see what catches my eye. Often I find once I have “something” to start with I can tweak and add/subtract until it becomes something truly my own.

    Thanks for sharing.

    1. I agree, it can be really interesting to pair seemingly odd combinations together and see what happens! That's why I like archetypes. As you said, it's a great source of inspiration for days when I am lacking in that area! :)

  3. You have inspired me! My brain can't decide which relationship archetype it wants to focus on brainstorming right now, because there are so many great options. What a great post, Christy.

    1. Thank you, Raimey! I was feeling that way too coming up with the list. :) Makes me want to start planning lots more stories so I can explore all of them!

  4. This is a great post. Being a romance writer, I really enjoyed this one. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thank you, Maggie! Writing relationships between characters has become one of my favorite things, so this was a fun one for me. :)

  5. I'm so glad that you included platonic and adversarial relationships here - this has really given me food for thought!

  6. Excellent post! Now I want to watch Buffy again...

    Ronel catching up for Feb Author Toolbox day Adding BookBub to Your Author Toolbox


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