5 Ways to Build Solid Relationships in Your Story

Relationships are an important part of all stories. Letting them happen naturally can make or break believability. (In other words, we must avoid “Insta-Love.”) Here are tests you can apply to your relationships to see if they make the grade.

(Meet an agent who reps young adult: Joanna Volpe of New Leaf Literary.)

GIVEAWAY: Kasie is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: Rosi won.)


kasie-west-author-writer       pivot-point-novel-cover

 Guest column by Kasie West, who lives with her family in Central
California, where the heat tries to kill her with its hundred-plus
degree stretches. When not writing she loves to wakeboard and
eat lots of mint-filled chocolate. She graduated from Fresno
State University with a bachelor’s degree that has nothing to
do with writing. Visit her online at kasiewest.com. Her debut
young adult novel from HarperTeen due out Feb. 2013 is called
PIVOT POINT. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly called the book
“a fascinating exploration of how life can change with one simple choice.”


1. “The Bachelor Test”

Perhaps I shouldn’t admit that I’m a fan of “The Bachelor” on television. But there you have it. I just admitted it. And since I know none of you would ever watch this show, let me explain a phenomenon that happens often. The Bachelor will sit down with his date and instead of talking about herself or asking questions that matter, she immediately starts saying: “I want you to know, I’m here for the right reasons. I’m here to find love and to get married. I’m here for you.”

This conversation is repeated over and over every time they have alone time together. I often find the equivalent of this conversation in books, when instead of spending time together, the characters just talk about how much they want to spend time together or how frustrated they are that they can’t be together. Wasting “on screen” time having characters lament about why they can or can’t be together, doesn’t show why they actually want to be together. To see how people face real things shows more about how they interact than talking ever will. I’m not saying they can’t ever talk about their relationship. But the majority of the time should be spent developing that relationship.

So test question number one: Does my character think she (or he) is talking to The Bachelor?

2. “The Stalking Test”

Staring at a boy or girl from a distance is fine, every once in a while. Especially if the staring shows something he/she is doing that helps the reader get to know him vs. telling how attractive he/she is. A few mentions of observation/appearance are plenty. If your main character or main love interest spends an unhealthy amount of time observing another person without that person knowing, it’s probably gone a bit overboard.

Test question number two: Is my main character auditioning for a role in the next horror film featuring creepy stalkers?

3. “The Staring Contest”

Speaking of staring, staring into each others’ eyes is super cute and romantic, but unless something else is going on can get sappy and boring really fast. So unless someone is checking out their appearance in that other person’s eyes (which could be a great way to show characterization) then best to leave extensive mentions of getting lost in someone’s eyes out of your manuscript. (Unless they really are getting lost in someone’s eyes….hmm….excuse me while I jot down a plot about hypnotism.)

Test question number three: Are my characters competing in a staring contest? First one to blink loses!

4. “The L-O-V-E Test”

Professing love is great, but much like adding too much water dilutes potency, too much of the L word dilutes its ability to have an effect on your readers’ emotions. This goes for other words too. Too much of any word can dilute its effectiveness. Use words that you would like to make an impact sparingly.

Test question number four: Have I spelled “love” without having to use the word?

5. “The Starry Eyed Test”

Resist having characters immediately like each other. Avoid phrases like: drawn to him, instant attraction, it felt like I had known her forever. These phrases, if necessary, can be used once a real connection has been established. Replace these phrases with actions that peak the MC’s curiosity about the person, that lead the MC to want to know more about the person that they just met. Of course, physical attraction can be an immediate thing, but following that, there needs to be something of substance to keep the main character interested in pursuing the relationship beyond physical appearance. Who is the love interest and why does your MC care about getting to know more about him? Show us.

Test question number five: Can my character see past the stars in her eyes?

GIVEAWAY: Kasie is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: Rosi won.)


Writing a novel for children? Literary agent
Mary Kole, who runs the popular KidLit.com
website, has a new guide out for writers of
young adult and middle grade. Pick up a copy
of Writing Irresistible Kidlit and get your
children’s book published.


Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:


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18 thoughts on “5 Ways to Build Solid Relationships in Your Story

  1. Debbie

    Relationships, attraction, AND your love of mint-filled chocolates all go hand-in-hand. I’m not surprised by your vision of starry eyes. I’m intrigued.

  2. Katie

    But but but…insta-love is so much easier!

    Actually, I think attraction is pretty easy to write, but when it’s love you’re trying to show, I think that is quite difficult. Your “tests” are great editing tools.

  3. smmorris

    These are great suggestions for a young adult book, but would they work in middle grade relationships? The quick answer would be yes, but middle grade “love” relationships are sometimes one-sided.

    How would you apply these to general relationship building in a story that does not involve boyfriend-girlfriend relationships?

    Guess I need to win your book! Would be a thrill!

  4. sldwyer

    Having recently published my first YA book, I was glad to see some interesting points to consider while writing my novel curently in progress. There is a major difference in showing relationships with teenage characters – even if they are brother and sister – than with adults.

    Thanks for the information.

  5. Missy

    These are good things to avoid, but it might also be useful to have a list of things to aim for. That being said, I think I like rule #4 the best. It reinforces the “show, don’t tell” advice that you hear so often in writing circles.

  6. vrundell

    Definitely good points, Kasie.
    Stalker love interests can be really boring, but worse, reading about them fosters the idea that “this is how it is” and that’s a dangerous idea to burn into brains!
    Best of luck,

  7. BrennaBraaten

    What great tips! I definitely love the first one. I never really considered it before, but I DO get annoyed when that happens in writing!

  8. arawhani11

    I definitely agree with all five points, but now that I’ve seen this there’s no way I’m going to be able to read a book properly without noticing each of the cliches 😐

  9. DanielJayBerg

    Thanks for sharing! Readers need a reason why the main character is the main character; and the same is true for reasons why Character A likes/loves/stalks Character B.

    Best of luck!


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