Relationship arcs make amazing subplots (or main plots, depending on your genre), especially when done well. First, be sure to take a look at my list of relationships your characters may have.
Relationship arcs can be positive or negative. Remember, just because characters grow apart in an arc, doesn’t mean that is a negative relationship arc. A negative arc is one which harms either or both characters involved, such as an abusive relationship. People can grow apart in healthy ways.
Two (or more) people can become closer by being in the same physical place, having similar problems they can empathize with, being thrown together by others, or simply clicking when they first meet.
Relationship arcs that bring characters closer:
ACQUAINTANCES TO FRIENDS
The two characters can be strangers who meet at school, work, or somewhere else. Or they can be characters who realize they have met many times and share many interests, so they decide to get to know each other better. Acquaintances can also be people who have known each other for a while but haven’t really spoken much. In this last case, if the characters become friends, what puts them together? Is it a mutual friend who decides they would make a good pair or are the characters in a situation where they must talk for the first time? In Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry, Ron, and Hermione meet for the first time and quickly become friends.
ACQUAINTANCES TO LOVERS
Please do not confuse this with the love at first sight trope! Falling in love with a stranger within moments is unrealistic and overused in young adult literature. However, it is a wonderful experience to read and write about characters who, either with conversations, common problems, or something else, quickly begin to understand and love each other. In The Hunger Games, Katniss and Peeta, who don’t know each other very well, fall in love.
FRIENDS TO LOVERS
When writing this arc, consider why the two characters are getting together now. If they waited a few years, why can’t they wait a few more? Have they loved each other for a while and only have the guts to say so now? Did one of them change drastically, changing the way the other viewed them? In Harry Potter, Ron and Hermione fall in love after being friends for many years.
ENEMIES TO LOVERS / FRIENDS
Be careful with this one. You don’t want to fall into the common pit of romanticizing abusive relationships! Still, it can be done well, as seen with Anne and Gilbert in Anne of Green Gables. This arc can also be used if two characters were forced to be enemies because of their environment, but found themselves falling for each other despite everything. How does their past impact their current relationship? Do they agree to forgive or forget? It can make a big difference!
FRIENDS TO SIBLINGS
I’m using this generically to refer to friends becoming closer, and can also blend into the found family trope. This can also be a continuation of the acquaintances to friends arc. The latter books of the Harry Potter series show Harry, Hermione, and Ron becoming closer and more like family.
MENTOR-MENTEE TO PARENT-CHILD
This may (but does not have to) be a result of the mentee not having a good relationship with their parents or not having parents. Most young adult books are told from the perspective of the mentee, but it is important to consider the mentor’s emotions as well. Perhaps the mentor finds themself caring more for the mentee, and thus are less able to teach harsh lessons. Remember, the mentor might see their mentee as a child even if that feeling isn’t reciprocated, or vice versa. In Matilda, Miss Honey becomes (quite literally) a parent to Matilda.
Characters aren’t always meant to grow closer.
Relationship arcs that make characters farther:
LOVERS / FRIENDS / MENTOR-MENTEE / PARENT-CHILD TO ENEMIES
A loving relationship gone wrong is always a heart-wrenching story to read. What caused this? If their environment pit them on opposite sides of a battle, there may be room for redemption and they might grow closer again in the future. Perhaps one (or both) of the characters never cared for the other, and the entire relationship was faked. Or maybe a misunderstanding never got the chance to be resolved. Peter Pettigrew went from a friend to an enemy in mere moments in Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban.
LOVERS / FRIENDS TO ACQUAINTANCES
Sometimes, people grow apart. A beautiful relationship ends with the two people simply not interacting very much. This might simply be because they moved apart (their family might have moved, they might have started new schools, etc.). Maybe one member of the relationship changed and the other couldn’t keep up. Or perhaps the two people were never meant to be together in the first place, and they learned that through trial and error. In The Hunger Games series, Katniss and Gale were good friends (and even lovers for a few tense scenes), but mistakes and misunderstandings set them apart, and they end up living very far from each other without a proper goodbye.
There are many more relationship arcs you can explore in your novel. Like always, be sure to avoid common tropes and pitfalls. Remember to, once again, use the real world for inspiration. What makes you grow closer to people and what has ruined relationships around you?
My favorite relationship arc is lovers or friends to enemies. When two people on opposite sides of a battle care for each other deep down, it’s impossible to pick sides!
What is your favorite relationship arc to write? Let me know in the comments!