Underrated Character Relationships

One of the things I love most about Calligraphy Guild is the variety of character relationships, so today I thought I’d highlight some of the relationships I enjoyed most and relationships I would love to see more of in fiction–including a couple that don’t appear in Calligraphy Guild (though I have plans to use all of these at some point. ;) )

Realistic Siblings

I’m the oldest of five siblings, so I love reading about sibling characters who nag at each other a bit, tease one another, but ultimately love and appreciate one another and make up after disagreements. Duyên is also an oldest sister, though she only has two siblings: Sakura and Sinh. Her relationship with Sakura was actually inspired by my relationship with my oldest sister, and her relationship with Sinh was somewhat informed by my relationship with my own brother. It was really neat to be able to weave in pieces of my own family and highlight them that way.

The other set of siblings is Tora and her older brother Makio. (They have another older brother, Tuan, but he doesn’t play as significant a role in this book.) Tora and Makio are a little bit idealized (a consequence of Makio being a lot of what I’d want in an older brother, lol), but their relationship is so sweet and I loved writing their scenes together.

Healthy Parent-Child Relationships

Y’all, this is especially a problem in YA fiction. Where are all the healthy parent-child relationships?? I’m so tired of all the dead or abusive parents in fiction. Who’s with me in writing more of what parents should be? While a good number of the characters in Calligraphy Guild are adults no longer near their parents (and a couple of characters do have dead or negligent parents), Duyên and her siblings have healthy relationships with their parents based on the relationships I’ve experienced and seen around me. Ryuu, too, is close with his parents, though there’s not much opportunity to see it in Calligraphy Guild. And a few of the characters–Chaska, Mika, and Diem in particular–are parents who have good relationships with their children.

Arranged Marriages/Marriages of Convenience That Work

I cannot tell you how tired I am of the “forbidden love” trope when one of the characters is already betrothed. That’s just plain ol’ cheating and I cannot stand it. I think that trope is a consequence of the hate on arranged marriages in general and the idea of working at a relationship instead of just “falling in love” and everything being happy-go-lucky. Arranged marriages have so much potential for revealing commitment, putting effort into a relationship, and taking one’s responsibilities seriously, but instead we so often see them as only an obstacle in the MC’s way. If you’re going to write a betrothal that doesn’t work out, at least have it end diplomatically and with adult conversation involved. (Livia Blackburne did the dissolved betrothal well in Daughter of Dusk.)

There are no arranged marriages or marriages of convenience in Calligraphy Guild, but this is a character relationship that I would love to see done well more often and I look forward to writing arranged marriages along these lines in future works.

Happy Marriages

Sort of related to the previous point, I’d love to see more generally strong marriages in fiction. Marriages where the couple likes each other, works well together, works out their differences, is appropriately affectionate, etc. This is another of those character relationships I think gets the short end of the stick in YA due to the need for the young characters to have autonomy and therefore the obvious need to eliminate parents (read with sarcasm), but I think there’s also a trend of bickering, unhappy couples that I’d just like to see go. (As a note… bickering old couples can be fun so long as it’s obvious that they still like and love each other and they’re not just grumpy all the time.)

Duyên’s parents and Ryuu’s parents are both examples of happy marriages in Calligraphy Guild. Raiden’s parents, as well as Chaska and her husband, are more off-screen examples.

Close Same-Gender Character Relationships

This one is probably better-represented than some of the others on the list. Lots of MCs have their tag-along best friend that they’ve known for years and are really close to. Now, those character relationships can have the pitfall of the best friend’s presence doing nothing but supporting the MC, in which case it’s not really a close and realistic friendship but rather a lopsided one. But in general, close friendships between guys or between girls are probably the easiest character relationships to find off this list.

Still, I really enjoyed writing these relationships in Calligraphy Guild. Duyên and Tora, Duyên and Jie, Tora and Sairsha, and Zen and Raiden are all examples of this character relationship in action in Calligraphy Guild.

Close (purely platonic) Opposite-Gender Character Relationships

This is perhaps one of the rarest character relationships on this list, since so many people want to see these relationships turn romantic or at least have romantic potential. Unfortunately, this is a trap I can sometimes fall into as well. But I love seeing fully platonic relationships between guys and girls, where there’s just genuine support and camaraderie there and no need or desire for anything more.

Duyên and Makio are my favorite example in Calligraphy Guild because they take this a step further and their friendship is almost like a sibling relationship, but Zen’s friendships with Tora and Sairsha also fall into this category.

Romantic Relationships Acknowledged to Not Work

This is another casualty of a hyper-romanticized culture, I think. It’s rare to find a fictional relationship in which the characters want to be together but decide they’re better off refraining from pursuing a romantic relationship. The one example I can think of off the top of my head would be Jo and Laurie in Little Women. I would love to see a greater variety of romantic plot line outcomes that explore the discernment and wisdom that must be applied to relationships and the complexities of real love.

I can’t share the Calligraphy Guild example of this relationship because it spoils the book, but this is a featured character relationship and it’s one I have every intention of exploring in future books as well.

Adopted Families/Foster Families

I don’t have a whole lot of personal experience with adoption or fostering, but my grandparents were foster parents and I would like to adopt one day. I would love to see quality representations of these types of relationships that don’t downplay the difficulties or the love involved. In a lot of cases I’ve seen, adoption is more of a plot point than a real piece of the character and their story, and while that can also be done well, I’d love to see more holistic representations of adopted families and foster families.

This is another relationship that didn’t fit into Calligraphy Guild, but it is a piece of my current work-in-progress as well as a few of my other pending stories.

Respectful Mentor/Student Character Relationships

This is another one that’s easier to find, at least depending on how respectful you want your mentor/student relationship to be. Mentors are a common archetype, so it’s fairly easy to find mentors and main characters who appreciate them; but a lot of student characters disregard their mentors a significant percentage of the time, or respect their knowledge of a skill but not their wisdom as a person, or else the mentor looks down on the student’s youth and inexperience, or the mentor dies and leaves the student on their own without a new mentor.

The mentor/student relationships in Calligraphy Guild aren’t perfect (in none of these categories do I think these character relationships should be perfect, but rather examples of characters aiming for the ideal), but there’s always a great deal of respect present. The students respect the wisdom and experience of their elders, and the mentors don’t talk down to the students but bear with their struggles and inexperience. Dai is my favorite of the mentors in Calligraphy Guild, with both Duyên and Tora, but Zen and Raiden are both great mentors to Ryuu as well.

Want to read more?

If these are character relationships you’re excited about, too, check out Calligraphy Guild when it releases on June 17th! If you sign up to my mailing list, you can read the first chapter for free here on my website.


Your turn! Are these relationships you’d like to see more in fiction, as well? What are some relationships you’d like to see that didn’t make my list? Comment down below!

And don’t forget to check out the Calligraphy Guild blog tour! There have been some awesome posts so far and there are even more yet to come!

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16 thoughts on “Underrated Character Relationships

  1. YES YES YES TO ALL OF THIS!!! Especially arranged marriages that WORK. I read predominantly Christian romance (mostly historical), and there is ALWAYS an arranged marriage that the heroine is running from (only because she’s not “in love” with the guy and he’s, like, eight years older than her in a world where it’d be perfectly normal for her to marry someone twenty years older *sighs*). I am SO. TIRED. OF IT. (I could literally rant about it aaaaalllll daaayyyy, so I guess I’ll stop there. XD)

    Anyway, I absolutely love this…and what’s cool is that I realize now a lot of these relationships are featured in my books! Especially close cross-gender friendships that are completely platonic. Like…all of Rina’s friends are guys, and it’s just SO fun to write their relationships! (Especially since Rina’s kinda like a meddling mentor too. XD) (And I’ve already said “especially” how many times now? *facepalm* I need a new word.)

    *coughs* Thank you so much for sharing this!! I totally agree!

    1. I know that feeling, LOL. This is one I could rant on for ages, too. Maybe I’m an odd case because my parents are ten years apart, but eight years isn’t a crazy gap, anyway? XD But yeah, I just… The big thing for me is that there often isn’t *any* reason for the arranged parties to bolt besides the lack of affection. A large age gap I can *almost* understand, depending on the size of the gap, but most of the arranged marriages I see in the fantasy arena don’t even have that excuse, lol.

      That’s awesome! It’s super cool to realize when one of your books features a lot of details you enjoy and hadn’t even noticed before. ^-^

      1. My parents are (almost) ten years apart too, so maybe that’s why! But when you think of a twenty-five year old and a thirty-two year old, it doesn’t seem like much at all! Same goes for ten or more years too! I KNOW. If their spouse-to-be is abusive or unfaithful or SOMETHING BAD, I would understand it…but they’re always just plain ol’ normal people. Ah, yeah! That makes it even worse!

        It really is! :D

        1. Yeah, the older you get the less weird it is. (Most of the arranged marriages I see are in YA, so if there *is* an age gap it’s usually a bit more significant. But yeah, if it’s an adult book that’s definitely not that strange.) Exactly! While I would obviously prefer to see more portrayals of *good* arranged marriages, I can appreciate the portrayal of genuinely *bad* arranged marriages, too. It just bugs me when it’s an unreasonably *negative* portrayal of an arranged marriage that’s not inherently problematic.

          1. Tell that to all the authors in their forties who are writing this age-gap arranged marriages. *shakes head* (Hmm, yeah.) Same here! I feel the same. I guess it’s up to us to break the mold, eh? ;)

          2. A number of my classic fantasy novels involve arranged marriages to some degree or another (though a number don’t, as well), and there are plenty of cultures in Deseran that leave ample opportunity for arranged marriage plotlines. Ooh! I just remembered there’s one where religious beliefs are a big conflict in the arrangement and that one is going to be *fun*. (Unfortunately that detail is pretty much all I’ve got thus far, so there’s still a lot of work to be done before I can write it, lol.)
            I can give no assurances on when any of those books will actually be written (or rewritten, as the case may be), but I will keep you in mind when they do have their turn. :)

  2. I totally agree!!! Especially about the platonic friendships, realistic siblings, and reasonably good parent-child relationships! (Of course, with a sprinkling of flaws, as you were saying *winks*) That is awesome that you explored some of these in The Calligraphy Guild – good for you!

    And yes about the arranged marriages/marriages of convenience! I actually haven’t read a whole lot of books with that trope, but the ones I have read NEVER come to fruition or turn out well. I may hate the thought of arranged marriages (sorry lol!), but since it exists, it absolutely needs to be portrayed fairly!!

    1. Yes! Strong friendships and families are super important!

      Exactly; they’re always villainized. I think arranged marriages can be done well or done poorly in real-life–there are some situations where they’re genuinely not good for the people involved–but it seems like in fiction we only ever get the one, *bad* side and never the positive side that has so much potential for strengthening the themes and the characters!

  3. ALL OF THESE!!

    I absolutely love this. Characters and their relationships with each other are one of my favorite aspects of storytelling, so it kind of pains me that people often opt for the more “cliche”/shallow relationships instead of doing something more unique and meaningful. 😝

    Anyway, I think I need to read your book now. 😄

    1. Same here! There are so many great options for character relationships and it seems like we always get the same handful of (often shallow) tropes. :P

      There’s still time to pre-order. ;)

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