What's the Most Important Relationship in Your Story

What’s the Most Important Relationship in Your Story?

This week’s video shows you how to find your story by finding your story’s most important relationship–and then putting it to work.

Video Transcript:

I think most writers would agree that the core of any story is its characters—and not just characters, but the interaction between characters. It’s in these interactions that we really discover who these characters are. These interactions are the single best way to show readers who these people are, as opposed to just telling them.

In every story, there’s almost always going to be one particular relationship that makes the story tick. So today I want to talk about, first, identifying that relationship and, then, ensuring you’re making the most of it. 

How do you know which is the most important relationship in your story?

Hopefully, it’s the relationship that gets the most screentime, but that’s not necessarily the best way to identify it. The first question to ask yourself is always, “Which relationship are you most interested in?” Which is the most fun to play with? Which are you getting the most lively banter from? And just as importantly, which supporting character is having the biggest impact on the plot?

Figuring out the most consequential relationship in your story is important because doing so will help you find the heart of your story and focus your narrative there, instead of taking rabbit trails or spending too much time on a relationship that may not really be that interesting or important.

Once you’ve identified your big relationship in the story—whether it’s romantic, familial, friendly, or even antagonistic—your next step is to take a good look at your overall story and evaluate how much screentime that relationship is getting and how central it is to the story. Sometimes we can start out writing a romance—in which the love interests are the obvious central relationship—when really the plot is being driven by a friendship. Paying attention to the central relationship in your story will help you figure out what story you’re really telling and how best to go about it.

Tell me your opinion: What’s the most important relationship in your story?

What’s the Most Important Relationship in Your Story

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. Sometimes, I stumble on a relationship that works in a WIP. When that happens I find myself wanting to write scenes that put those two characters together. It could be a potential love interest (those are always fun to write), a confidant or even an enemy. I am a pantser trying to be more of an outliner, but I find theis type of “character chemistry” happens serendipitously (is that a word?). In other words, I discover these relationships as I write. It’s a neat feeling. On the other hand, a writer must be careful not to get carried away with a terrific relationship at the expense of the narrative. Great post today, KM.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Totally true about getting carried away. I’ve “ruined” at least one story that way when a surprising character ending up taking the story in a direction I hadn’t foreseen.

      • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

        Address the theme as it becomes pertinent to the plot. But, in all honesty, if it bores you, it may not be the right theme for you to explore. We can’t expect readers to be passionate about a subject if we’re not.

  2. Very pertinent post for me today! While I’ve always known this mystery/part romance was really about the friendship between the protagonist and one of the hidden antags, I’ve never thought about it directly. Analyzing how to maximize their relationship in the scenes has really helped me weed out some extraneous ‘rabbit trails’ today. Thank you!

  3. The story I am currently is driven by the strong bond between a Mother and Son. Even though I have not give enough part for this relationship, the lost son is driven to find and return back to his mother.

    There are many other relationships in the story like friends, enemies, affectionate elders that re give more story time; but his one Mother-Son bond drives the entire story.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Almost all stories will include many and varied relationships. They bring depth and breadth to the story and its theme. But it’s always worth focusing on that one relationship that’s powering things.

  4. I have two. The romance between H&H, and the relationship between the hero and his brother.

    H&H are separated at the moment, and will be for at least 10,000 more words. I’m playing with narrative structure a bit, though, and since they’ve been together for almost 10 years I’m going back in their past to show how they met and fell in love. By the time they’re together on the page the reader will have a clear picture of where all they’ve been and what the issues are keeping them apart.

    With the hero and his brother, the best word to describe it is complicated. Hero believes his brother abandoned him, and he’s having a hard time believing the truth. Which is that brother was told he was dead, and their position in society made it practically impossible for brother to find out the truth. Every time they almost make progress in getting past their emotional wounds, one of them says something that sets the other one off.

    When I started this novel I had no idea hero’s relationship with his brother would be such a big part of the story. I thought the brother was a jerk and not worthy of the time to develop him. He showed me! I was totally wrong, and he loves his little brother dearly.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Sounds like a lot of fun! When they’re done well, I love interlocking timelines. And I love brother stories too. 🙂

      • It’s my first time doing an interlocking timeline, but this is also my sixth novel. Here’s hoping I can pull it off the way it deserves!

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          They’re tough. I’ve used the technique once and messed with it in other books. Much harder to pull off seamlessly than the great authors make it look!

          • I can’t figure out how to tell the story any other way, to be honest. I am doing it where I can re-arrange the structure and make it more like a part one, with the story of how they met and fell in love and what their romantic conflict is, and then a part two with the current pieces of trying to figure out how to have a life together.

            If my betas and CP have issues with the past story being sprinkled in I’ll just rearrange chapters and make it Part One and Part Two.

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

            Beta readers will know!

  5. Hey K.M. – the most important relationship in my current novel is the narrator (an eleven-year-old homeless girl) and her mother (who’s gone missing and the girl is desperately searching for her). I had an agent who left the biz before we tried selling it, but she said what was so compelling for her is that the reader gets to know the mother so well through the child’s POV, though they never meet her. 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Good for you! When non-present characters can loom large (I always think of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca), that’s a sign of strong writing.

  6. thomas h cullen says

    The most compelling, definitive work of political fiction, ever written……and it’s actually the very apolitical story between a father and daughter, that’s not just central, but overwhelmingly what The Representative’s about.

    United States satire; definitive parabolics, etc etc:

    Even still……it’s the utter mere one-to-one history between a man and his child which has taken this text’s driver’s seat.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Again, I have to take exception to the idea that any one work of fiction can be definitive.

      • thomas h cullen says

        That’s just how far my conviction goes, with The Representative.

        The situation; the motivations, informing the situation; the themes – the perspectives:

        They’re all of something never encountered before!

  7. In my last novel, the most important relationship would be between the main character and his mother. The relationship could be described as antagonistic because at least one reader has blamed the mother for the main character snapping and shooting up his school.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Quite often, the semi-antagonistic relationships are the most powerful and intriguing.

  8. I’ve never had a doubt that the most important relationship in my current WIP (a trilogy of novels) is the one between two very different brothers, the two main characters. I started the project handling them as if they were just one character.
    One of them is very positive and trusting, he always seen the good in everything, he is – I like to say – a wildly positive character.
    The other is a man with a lot of experience. Very bed experiences, who feels his life doesn’t make sense anymore because everything he loved and was sacred to him (except his brother) is gone.
    They are very close and very protective toward each other in spite of their differences. I love the interaction between them. It took me a lot of work getting into their hearts and let the story breath with what I found in there.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I don’t what it is about brothers stories (versus sisters stories), but I adore them. Sounds great!

  9. In my story most important relationship is between female and male protagonist. There isn’t any romance. They have age difference so male stars to love female in a fatherly way.
    They start out not hating, disliking each other.
    Relationship grows strong because of the tough environment they live in in my book Rabies.
    Like name would suggest it has something to do with angry animals.
    What I found interesting in the relationship is the fact that even though they come from “different worlds” they still share the same core values.
    Than you for the post. It helped me to dig deep in my story.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I like mentor relationships a lot. One of the reasons I like True Grit so much. Although one has to question who’s mentoring whom…

  10. Hi K.M. — In the mysteries series I’m writing, the most important relationship is between the main character, Sato, a recently widowed and recently retired Tokyo police inspector-turned-reluctant P.I., and his best friend, Abe, who loyally quits the department to continue being the ex-inspector’s sidekick and sounding board. Developing the rapport between the two has been a challenge — trying not to blatantly rip off Holmes and Watson, for example.x As Sato adjusts to his new life, he has Abe to help him find his way. It’s a challenge — and a lot of work — I’m beginning to appreciate.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Totally love the idea of the sidekick willingly leaving his own paying job to stay with his old partner!

  11. Bethany Southward says

    In my current work, the main relationship is between the main protagonist, Kiri, and a secondary character named Tsuru. The story is set in a fantastical universe where many different humanoid “races” exist, and Tsuru’s kind aren’t really known for their hospitality towards others, which makes their early relationship a bit rocky. Kiri doesn’t particularly like Tsuru at first either, due to her antisocial and cold personality, but they eventually bond over a shared goal and end up becoming close friends. The main part of their relationship is the fact that they change each other for better, their individual strengths rubbing off on one another and weaknesses being fixed.
    While there are other romantic relationships in the story, I decided to focus on these guys more, because honestly I find the whole ‘mateship’ aspect to it more fun to write and it pushes the later parts of the story onward.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      There’s a good reason romantic relationships are so often central to their stories (even in decidedly non-romance genres). There’s just so much more inherent conflict (and sizzle) in romantic relationships than we find in just about any other kind of relationship.

  12. I’m planning my NaNoWriMo, and at the moment it’s going to be a fantasy adventure where the protagonist (a pirate) gets dragged into a quest to bring down the oppressive government. His love interest is a fellow pirate who just wants to go her own way and stay out of the whole thing, while his new best friend/sidekick is a boy who’s been horrifically changed and lost his memory because of this government. The romantic relationship will therefore be pulling him one way (to leave it to someone else and take the safe route out, which becomes more tempting the more he falls for her) and the sidekick relationship another (to uncover the government’s deep dark secret and bring them down, obviously at great risk to himself), so would it be fair to say they can both be the joint most important relationships?
    I also have an impact character who causes the protagonist to be dragged in to it all to begin with, a mentor character, and a couple of contagonists along for the ride, plus obviously an antagonist pursuing them all.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Sounds to me like the sidekick is the relationship driving your story. One note about love interests: because they usually represent the “reward” the protagonist receives after getting himself sorted out over the course of the story, they usually need to represent the end change he’s going to have to make. If, however, the love interest represents a value the protagonist will grow *away* from, then the protagonist will probably have to end up growing away from the love interest as well. Unless, of course, the love interest also undergoes a character change, so they can meet on common ground at the end.

      • Yes, that’s exactly what I was planning! I want at least the sidekick and love interest to have their own arcs as well, so the love interest’s arc was going to be that she needs to learn to trust people and stop running away from people but rather towards them. This is different enough from the protagonist’s arc (to go from believing he’s useless and can’t change anything, to finding self-belief and the courage to take action), so they can meet in the middle at the end when he accepts his mission, and she decides to become a part of this new family she’s made.

        This will hopefully give some conflict after the midpoint (she realises she wants to stop running and be with him at the same point he realises he’s got to suck it up and believe in himself to take on the mission), so even though they get their feelings out in the open at the end of Act 2b (victory!) as the protagonist goes past the point of no return (third plot point), it becomes clear they might not end up together after all…. until he wins through and they’re both together! (Though this is supposed to be the first part of a series, so ends on somewhat of a cliffhanger with lots more adventures ahead of them…)

        As for the sidekick, yes I suppose their relationship is a lot more relevant to the specifics of the plot, and it’s their friendship that gives him the motivation to push on through on his journey, so I’ll have to make sure I invest just as much time in making their relationship believable as well.

  13. There is some conflict between Samantha and StarGirl, but Vance and StarGirl a lot of times get screentime since I am interested in their relationship. Right now it’s friendship, but it might develop into romantic.


  1. […] What’s the most important relationship in your story? K.M. Weiland explores how focusing on this aspect of your story could improve it. […]

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