3 Biggest Relationship Writing Mistakes

LJIZlzHgQ7WPSh5KVTCB_TypewriterMost fiction has a romance of some sort. Historical, literary, suspense–most plots, even if they’re not a romance novel, have a romantic subplot at the minimum. And actually, most of this advice can be used for all sort of relationships between characters (mother/daughter, best friends, lovers).

The interaction between your characters is what brings a book to life. No novel is written without dialogue, secrets, plot and emotions that cross between the characters in your novels. So how does this all come to life and become real for the reader?


1. Coincidence. It’s not that easy.

There is nothing more transparent than characters who come together serendipitously. It’s easy for a writer to have characters bump into each other on the street. What’s hard is to plot interaction naturally for each character’s own motivations and goals separate from their relationship to each other. Comb your writing for things that seem too easy; chances are, the reader can see right through it.

2. Can they just get in a room together?

The opposite of coincidence is a similar problem. If your relationship issue could be solved by two people simply being in the same room and talking it out–it’s not plotted deeply enough. The characters have to be up against something external and bigger than themselves. If they themselves are the limitation to their happiness or coupling then the reader will get frustrated very easily.

3. Technology. The curse of modern relationship writing. 

I know writers, this one isn’t easy. But, setting your novel in the 90s isn’t the answer either! (The reason for writing a historical novel has to be more than just avoiding the cell phone or internet.) Even having a characters’ cell phone drained of battery is hard because of the modern conveniences of car charges and backup chargers. No reader will believe this unless it’s a character quirk and even then we’re all frustrated by our own friends who don’t travel with a fully charged phone! Plus, there is wifi everywhere we go, so of course in a modern novel there will be the same amenities for your character. Therefore, you can’t make your plot too simple or else we’re back at Problem 2 (i.e. why can’t they just talk?). If you have to keep them away with a forgotten cell phone or dead battery then the see above (i.e. external conflict!).

Q: Which one of these is the hardest for you?

Published by Carly Watters

Carly Watters is a SVP, senior literary agent and director of literary branding with the P.S. Literary Agency. She is a hands-on agent that develops proposals and manuscripts with attention to detail and the relevant markets. PSLA’s mission is to manage authors’ literary brands for their entire career. Never without a book on hand she reads across categories which is reflected in the genres she represents and is actively seeking new authors in including women’s fiction, commercial and upmarket fiction, select literary fiction, platform-driven non fiction and select memoir. She occasionally represents children's book projects. Carly is drawn to emotional, well-paced narratives, with a great voice and characters that readers can get invested in.

14 thoughts on “3 Biggest Relationship Writing Mistakes

  1. It always seems to boil down to upping the tension. Modern readers want real tension in their reading and it has to work well. The tech issues is definitely a pain because writing character tension while they’re staring at a phone constantly makes us want to scream, “get off your damn phone.” Finding a balance with every character is a world of work.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I actually had the problem of making an old relationship feel that way. In the earliest stages of my manuscript it was hard to see why the two had been together for so many years. I had to go back and develop them earlier in order to write them “now.”

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  3. My “love interest” occurs because two damaged people find comfort in one another. But it won’t last. Because when healing begins for either one of them, they will see the bond of the relationship is tenuous. They do talk–on the phone. In the late 90s or whenever, characters HAVE TO TALK.

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  4. geting two people together is tough enough in real life, let alone on a page. But the tech issue makes this even tougher. Somehow, texting, calling, and or online chatting just doesn’t make compelling reading. My current novel is set back in the mid 80’s- mid 90’s…my characters are talking!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Carly, thanks for another great post. I’m just about finished a new novel manuscript, and with great relief I learned I managed to avoid all three mistakes. Which mistake is hardest to avoid depends entirely on the story. In this new novel (based on my short story “The Librarian’s Farewell” in The Georgia Review), I avoided the first mistake by making my assertive female protagonist a lifelong fan of a reclusive cartoonist. When she learns that he habitually frequents Baltimore’s Enoch Pratt Library each weekday morning, she decides to stake out the stacks and, when she sees him, find the courage to approach him in an unusual way. Everything else that happens spins out of her initial willingness to put herself out there the way she does. Anyway, I appreciated the chance to hold the book’s plot up against your three points and make sure it measures up.

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  6. The hardest for me is making sure that my plot has points that clearly have an overwhelmingly adverse effect on the protagonist’s relationship with her daughter. Some of their argumentative dialogue sounds cliche’. Having a good relationship with my own daughter leaves me void of a reference for digging deeper.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Susan, as regards a frame of reference for your fictional daughter character, I’ve found it helpful sometimes to imagine (or even write out) a situation beyond the needs of the novel that might serve to illuminate a character’s differences from her real-life counterpart. What would your fictional daughter order at a diner? What movie would she choose at the multiplex? If she keeps making the same choices as your real daughter, try imagining them both in the same situation and look for things about which they might disagree. I’d be interested in hearing more about your book.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I am writing a memoir so my relationship writing challenges are a bit different than those in fiction; however, #3 came up in a critique of my manuscript.

    In my story, I’m trying to entertain myself while in the hospital with a pregnant stranger. Someone suggested I be playing on my cell phone to pass the time but I didn’t have a cell phone then, even though it was 2008! Haha

    I guess that’s when I should fudge the truth a little. :)


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