Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Getting your buddies together for the adventure

Here’s a fun post from Chris Winkle at Mythcreants: Seven Ways to Bring Characters Together

You have a character that’s made from oozing lava, and another that’s a rolling snowball. They’ll make a great lava-snow duo, but right now they won’t so much as say hi. Don’t worry, storytellers have many tried-and-true plot devices for bringing characters from different walks of life together. Start by looking through these seven.

Yep, that’s an issue, and for me it can be a biiiig issue. It took a long while to everyone to get together in HOUSE OF SHADOWS, for example. That book may have offered the most separated plot threads I’ve ever had.

Let me see, long does it take the two lead characters to meet each other in WINTER OF ICE AND IRON (pre-orderable now for a mere $7.99)? It seems like forever but in fact they meet for the first time on page . . . let me flip through this copy here . . . page 205, at the beginning of chapter eleven. That’s a hair over a third of the way through the book, and then yes, one of these seven reasons does pressure them into becoming a team.

Oh, the seven ways Winkle mentions are:

1. Alliance of necessity
2. Have one hire the other
3. Start them off as antagonists
4. Give one leverage over the other
5. Make one guard the other
6. Make one investigate the other
7. Lead one to shelter the other

All of those are common, aren’t they? In WINTER, a common enemy provides the biggest push, which makes it a #1 type of situation, though there are aspects of some of the others as well.

It seems we should be able to find three more reasons, though the above are fairly broad and inclusive. Here’s one that’s pretty much missing from the above list, though:

8. They just happen to bump into each other and there is instant chemistry. That’s mostly for romance, and of course romances can use anything off that list, but the just-happen-to-meet thing certainly also happens in romances.

How would you characterize the romance in ATTACHMENTS by Rainbow Rowell, where the female lead isn’t aware of the male lead till right at the end, while he is falling in love with her by reading her emails? That’s certainly peculiar and seems like it deserves its own category, though how you would characterize that . . . maybe:

9. Falling in love long distance, with “long distance” meaning via letters, diary entries, and so on. Are there other examples of this besides Rowell’s book? Seems like I’ve got something right on the tip of my tongue.

It would be nice to get to ten. What about:

10. Have one impulsively rescue the other. Is that too similar to (7) above? I think it’s different. Think about Miri rescuing Val Con and vice versa in AGENT OF CHANGE. I’m sure there are other instances of sudden impulsive rescue followed by a partnership.

Of the batch, I’m not keen on (4), especially not if the character holding most of the cards is unlikable.

If the author can pull it off, I’m particularly into (3). Think of Nicholas Valiard and Inspecter Ronsarde in Death of the Necromancer.

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7 Comments Getting your buddies together for the adventure

  1. Mary Anne

    ‘The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society’ springs to mind for “meet from a distance (and start to fall in love.)” I just listened to the audio version, and it was as excellent (if not more so) as the book. Cannot recommend it highly enough, for book lovers, for history, for awesome characters and for the romance – which takes a back stage to the other three, but is still present.

  2. Maureen E

    Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster is a perfect example of 9, if at this point a somewhat creepy one. (I thought it was swoonily romantic when I was young and now…eeeegh.)

  3. Elaine T

    Slow growth on at least one side. I’m thinking of Ekaterin and Miles Vorkosigan, who wouldn’t have met at all if he hadn’t been living in her place. So, meet by coincidence, slow attraction grows.

    There’s the related, arranged marriage – or other formal arrangement – and people get to like each other while in that arrangement. similar to one having to guard the other, but not necessarily the same.

    Travel together because that’s how travelers survive. Chemistry develops. Although I’m actually thinking of LOTR right now: everyone towards Aragorn; Gimli and Legolas.

  4. Mike S.

    In addition to one hiring the other, there’s also getting assigned together without regard for personal preference: “he’s a chimp; she’s the Pope: they’re cops”. (“Look, no one says you have to like each other, just get that report on my desk by Monday. And put on a regulation hat, Your Holiness!”)

    See also many war stories, especially industrial-era ones, where Tex, Brooklyn, the Swede, and Alameda Sam would never have gotten within a thousand miles of each other if not for the draft board giving them all a keen shared interest in staying alive in a hostile land. Somewhat akin to alliance of necessity, but imposed from above with no element of negotiation or choice other than not to desert.

    (Also works for school stories: roommate, lab partner, team project gone horribly wrong.)

    There’s also the old RPG standby: “You all meet in a bar.” Sometimes that segues into one of the others as they’re hired by the mysterious guy with the eyepatch or wind up back to back in a brawl. But there’s an entire genre of SF/fantasy stories in which it’s just regularly going to the bar itself that brings the characters together to encounter the story: Callahan’s, The White Hart, the Old Phoenix, etc. (Sometimes it’s a club instead of a bar, like the Black Widowers.)

  5. mona

    I think 3 and 4 are actually pretty similar, since if A’s got leverage over B, B is probably feeling antagonistic towards A. Similarly, 2, 6, and 7 can be subsets of 1, as well as forced partnership. I like the instant chemistry category, although I can’t think of many examples. Antagonism used to work well for me, but it can be cliched.

    9 doesn’t have to lead to love– you can have researchers who correspond over a long distance finally meeting, or the child of researcher A is near B’s place of residence and needs help with a topic of mutual interest. This can be even broader actually: MC needs help with (obscure) research/magic/technical skill so locates knowledgable person. But now that’s pretty different from long distance love, oops.

    What about a introduction by mutual acquaintance? I’m think Niko in Pierce’s Circle of Magic series. This could also cover the arranged marriage situation.

    Also, thief initiates relationship to steal something and then… etc. Or maybe that should be character pretending to be somebody else. I had something in mind and now I can’t recall what it was.

  6. Mary

    Then, there’s a pre-existing connection that for some reason reaches urgency. It can overlap with other reasons, but it helps chain the characters together instead of letting them solve the conflict by dodging each other.

    In romances, a very common one is that her sister and his brother were married, had a child, and died. This can be an antagonist, of course, a custody fight, but others as well — she proposes a marriage of convenience to help her win custody.

    There are others. Perhaps there’s a will where the conditions of inheritance force them to work together. (Very close to Mike S.’s assignment.)

  7. Rachel

    Mary, I can think of several marriage-of-convenience romances, but I’m not sure I remember any with the specific her-sister-and-his-brother type of set up. Interestingly fraught situation, certainly.

    Mona, I can think of a definite example of the thief idea — Zelazny set up exactly that buddy situation in Changeling. That kind of thing appeals to me because I do generally like thieves.

    Mike, you made me laugh with that “And put on a regulation hat, Your Holiness” line.

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