A Revealing Scene (in more ways than one)
I stumbled upon something unexpected recently while working on the opening for a potential work in progress. It turns out my protagonist has a son. Well, I suppose that in itself wasn’t a shock. After all, I was the one who placed the youth amidst the brief bridging conflict, having him tag along as an inquisitive preteen might do while his father checks a glitch in the security perimeter for the isolated town in which they live after the collapse of a once great land. The surprise was the realization that this awkward, questioning boy was the center of my protagonist’s world, meaning more to him than his wife, more than his standing in the community, more in fact than he himself will see until much later in the story. And it was in that moment of discovery that all the machinations for the tale I had plotted out in my head instantly fell into place. For I had identified the primary motivator of my lead, and pinpointed a relationship I would need to tease out and understand, just as surely as any individual character arc.
Only later did it occur to me I had experienced a similar epiphany on my first novel, when the protagonist’s relationship with his brother, though not central to the story, had proven key to understanding his past, and an essential thread in his evolution.
Both observations got me thinking about character relationships, from those that bloom in plain sight, like Ove’s thawing relationship with his neighbor Parvaneh over the course of Fredrik Backman’s A Man Called Ove, to subtle ones that sneak up on readers and characters alike, such as Ove’s grandfatherly affection for Parvaneh’s daughter in the same tale. Specifically, I wondered this – What are the keys to crafting realistic and moving relationships between characters? And what are the tools one can use to give those relationships their due, supplying them with the power not only to shape the protagonist’s emotional arc but also to elevate the entire work?