Doing Defines You: Using Relationships to Reveal Your Characters

7:38 AM Gemma Fitz 4 Comments

Recently, I watched Fellowship of the Rings for what was probably the 80 millionth time. Of all the Middle Earth movies, the Fellowship is my favourite, and very close to my heart. I'm the first to admit that objectively Return of the King was the best, and Two Towers had the most Smeagol, so, ya know, that means it's pretty awesome. But I still like Fellowship best, and watching it again, I realized why.

It's all about relationships.

With the Fellowship, we get nine characters stuck travelling with each other. Some of them are on friendly terms, others... not so friendly. We've got a huge variety of personality types and cultural backgrounds, which results in an even huger variety of relationships. And the whole movie long we get to watch these relationships in play, more so than in the other movies.

(It's also got Boromir, so I mean... how can it NOT be everyone's favourite?)

I think often as writers, we forget the power of relationships. Oh yeah, we give our character a girl/boyfriend, a friend or two, and sometimes a family, but we forget that ultimately, it's how we interact with other people which really defines who we are.

You can tell basically anything about a person from the way they act around other people, if you pay attention. We can guess Boromir is the eldest child in his family long before we meet Faramir by the way he supports and protects the other companions... much like an older brother would. We knew that Elves and Dwarves aren't on friendly terms before Hobbit came out and explained their rivalry, because we saw the way Legolas and Gimli treated each other.

It doesn't just stop with the externals, either. We can make some pretty good guesses as to their personalities and the way they see the world, too. We can tell that Aragorn believes men are weak by the way he treats Boromir and even himself. Are you familiar with the Meyers-Briggs Personality Types? We can deduce that Boromir is an F(eeler) and Aragorn is a T(hinker), simply by watching the way they interact with each other and the other members of the Fellowship.
Give them a moment, for pity's sake! 
(And yes, I'm talking way too much about Boromir in this post. But seriously!!! This guy!!!)

As writers, we tend to pay more attention to what characters are inside. We emphasise their mental or emotional turmoil by climbing inside their heads and hearts and digging it out to show the reader. We investigate every inch of our characters' thoughts and feelings from our nice little inside view. And that's totally cool. Readers love the emotional attachment that comes from being inside a character's head and seeing the world through their eyes.

But ultimately it's not about what a certain character thinks or feels. It's about how he acts, how he treats those around him.
This gif sums it up well.
Think about it. In Age of Ultron, Ultron is trying to accomplish world peace in his time. That's a worthy goal, right? In fact, even though the movie was about the Avengers, the writers made Ultron a very believable and relatable character, whom the audience could sympathise with. His motivation was largely good, and he had a lot of believable emotional turmoil. Underneath, he might seem like a good person.

But his actions tell a different story. He tries to kill the Avengers, everywhere he goes, he leaves casualties, and then we find out that his plan for world peace is more like world destruction. Not such a good person after all.

It's important that you show what the character does and how he interacts with others, not just what he feels like inside. A person in a historical novel who believes all men are created equal and that the slave trade is wrong, but acts nasty and superior to all those he comes in contact with, still isn't a nice person. We learn most from the relationships. Show us how they treat other people, and we'll know what they're like.

Make the most of the relationships. They're not just there for feels and flails. They have a purpose. Use them to their full potential.

What do your characters' relationships tell about them? Am I just reading way to much into this relationship thing? Which is your favourite Middle Earth movie? Isn't Boromir just the greatest? What did you think of Age of Ultron?


  1. YES YES YES. Character relationships are my favorites to read about, write about, and explore in general, because it's so fascinating how everyone interacts with the people around them differently. I loveeee this. I've been wanting to post about it, but you've got it covered! :D

    Also, Boromir. So much love. <3

    1. Exactly! Everyone relates to people in his own unique way, and it's sooo fun to play with.

      Thanks for the comment and the follow!

  2. Relationships, all the way! (Even though I'm a misanthropic introvert. :P) They do show what a person is really like. Even though I like getting inside the character's head, I don't want to stay there ALL the time. It really is *in Batman voice* what I doooo that defines me.

    And in response to your questions, RotK is my favourite, Boromir is the BEST, and Age of Ultron was cool and creepy.

    1. I always imagined that introverts would probably appreciate relationships even more than extroverts, since it's harder for them to get along with just anybody-- it has to be somebody special. But, being an extrovert, I really wouldn't know.
      I like getting inside character's heads sometimes-- often, even-- but then I sometimes get annoyed because the character tends to think he's the greatest thing ever while treating other people like dirt and I'm just like "DUDE. You. Are. A. Jerk." Not every character, but many.


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