“I love situations where people are thrown together in unwelcome proximity,” says P.D. James. Life is people, and people are about relationship.
Marital bliss, marital discord, sibling rivalry, resentment, jealousy, sacrifice and betrayal, lies, honesty, despair, raw emotion—the things that bind and separate us play off our need to love and be loved. Great fiction seats us in worlds much like our own, depicting the adventure, toil, and cost of everyday life. As readers, we ride the current, the yin and yang of security, inheritance, love, and independence, solitude, and freedom as characters, much like ourselves, run from and to their marital and childhood homes.
Rebecca Wells’s Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood is an excellent example of relationship as the crux of story. On the canvas of a rich Louisiana setting, her novel portrays the complexity of our relationship, as well as their interdependence with other key relationships in our lives. When Siddalee has a falling out with her mother, her mother’s friends, a gaggle of bayou debutantes who call themselves the Ya-Yas—women who, together, have faced the disillusionments of life, marriage, and motherhood—try to reconcile mother and daughter by helping Siddalee understand Vivi’s relationship with her parents. And the web broadens to encompass Siddalee’s love interest, her long delayed wedding, which, coinciding with the disruption in her relationship with her mother, Siddalee calls off.
Sex, gender, and sexuality factor into our relations with others, as do desire, obsession, possession, objectification, exploitation, subjugation, intimacy, commitment, friendship, responsibility, etc. The subject matter for fiction is endless.
Relationships spin on the axis of conflict, as all of life does. Conflict (and not just between two people as adversaries, but between the two and their circumstances) raises the question of choice. Choice results in change.
To help get your wheels turning, consider the following psuedo titles:
- Can Exes Go Back to Being Friends?
- The Definition of Love (Love Actually)
- Ways to Arrest One’s Tendency to be Jealous
- How Many Dates Does it Take to Know She/He’s the One?
- How Parents Can Deal with Their Kids’ Defiance
- The Essentials of a Good Relationship
- Dealing with People as a Child vs. Dealing with People as an Adult
- The Concept of Soulmates
- Does Everything Our Parents Teach Us Help in Life?
- Hedging Between the Pros and Cons of Remaining Single
Another way to consider story potential within the concept of relationships is to think about the various ways two people could interact.
The Conflicting Relationship
An old standard, two people clash. Personalities too different or too similar pit them against each other. There’s a lot to play with in this dynamic. What if two people share an excessive trait? How might they lock horns? What might they accomplish? What might they unwittingly sabotage? What if they both share deficient traits? What would their shared world look like if both are extremely passive? Could this shared world have an effect on the larger world? What would a battle between passive partners look like? As you might imagine, there’s room for drama and comedy in either scenario.
We’re familiar with stories pairing two diametrically opposed personalities and the potential for miscommunication, conflict in their agendas, and the myriad ways one offends and annoys the other. While there’s still much room to explore in this coupling, there’s also a lesser explored dynamic. Occasionally, two diametrically opposed personalities come together in one mastermind with incredible power. Sparks fly, as we’d expect, but the two personalities ultimately solder their conflicting ideas into unexpected choices neither would arrive at without the other. Plug in details and see what kind of a story you come up with.
The Symbiotic Relationship
Symbiosis is close and often long-term interaction between two species, which can be mutualistic, parasitic, or commensal.
Mutualism describes interaction between two organisms that experience mutual benefit in the relationship. A bee visits a flower as a food source and disperses its pollen. A better example is the clownfish and the sea anemone. The bright colors of clownfish attract predators that the sea anemone eats, while the anemone provides shelter for the clownfish. Can you imagine the many ways this dynamic might translate into human terms? Could one of them serve as the basis of your next story?
To complicate a mutual relationship try adding a parasitic dimension. There’s a parasite that clings to the hippo and eats away at its flesh. The hippo obviously doesn’t benefit from this arrangement. There’s also a bird, however, that sets up house on the hippo’s flank and those two are in cahoots. The bird has a place to live and a ready food source. It eats the parasite that afflicts the hippo. Sounds like Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, I know, but stop and think. Can you envision ways to manipulate this triad in the human realm?
Remora sharks are endowed with an adhesive disk on the dorsal surface of their heads that they use to hitch a ride on larger animals, usually whales, which tend to be sloppy eaters. When food floats away from the whale’s mouth, the remora can unhitch itself and collect the scraps of food floating by. This is an example of commensalism, a class of relationship where one organism benefits without affecting the other. It also gives us a potential story dynamic to consider. Maybe your next hero has turned the “remora” method of navigating his world into an artform. What context could you insert him in? The corporate world? The art world? The possibilities are as many as you can contrive.