This is a terrible subject line, but I can't think of a better one that describes this concept.sheron
and I had a conversation about this awhile back, and I meant to write it up into a post, then forgot about it for awhile, but I was thinking about that conversation tonight and figured I'd go ahead and do that before I forget it all completely.
We were talking about how satisfying it is when serial-type fiction (TV shows, books, movies in a series) have the characters referring to each other or thinking about each other when the other one is not actually involved in the current storyline, or is elsewhere. Like, it's satisfying and happymaking all out of proportion to the actual amount of screentime it gets. Just a few offhand references can make it feel like the other character is present when they're actually not - it gives a tremendous amount of relationship continuity and emotional "weight", I guess, to the relationship, by suggesting that the characters think about each other even when they're not present.
We were kicking around the idea that this is actually one reason why fans sometimes come away shipping something completely different than the narrative actually wanted them to ship, or feeling like certain pairings just "have no chemistry". And it's really easy to do by accident if you're largely focused on the plot, I think, because some character relationships are more tightly plot-connected than others, so you have
to keep referring back to them in the characters' thoughts and having that relationship come up in the narrative - whereas some of the side relationships don't necessarily have that, so if the writers don't make the effort to keep them in mind, they just sort of ... vanish except when the other person is onscreen.
And it doesn't even have to be much! Like, Sheron used the example of Steve/Sharon in Civil War
- I don't dislike that pairing, but I agree with her that it would've given that relationship a lot more weight if we'd had a few instances of the two of them thinking about or referencing each other when they're not in the same scene together - like Steve stopping to consider the effect that him going on the run might have on Sharon, or a brief scene with her getting a text message letting her know he's okay at the end. It can be absolutely miniscule - just 10 seconds or 20 seconds here or there. The thing is that not
having it in there might be part of why so many people came away feeling cold towards that relationship - because it gives the subconscious impression that they're just not that important in each other's lives.
It's not even necessarily romantic - I mean, it doesn't have to be. If someone is important to you, platonically or otherwise, you tend to do that kind of thing ALL THE TIME in real life. You think about your friend; you see things that remind you of your friend; you think "oh, so & so would like this" or you're reminded of an in-joke or something you once did together. In fiction, a little goes a long way, so it doesn't take much to give the impression that the characters' relationship extends beyond their actual scenes together onscreen. If you have 2 hours of a movie, then you really only need a couple of instances of that sort of thing to cement the idea that the two characters are important in each other's lives.
And if you DO get that with some relationships (even if it's literally just because they are both important in the plot and you have
to keep having the two of them reference what the other one is up to) and you DON'T get that with others, it's going to leave a subconscious impression that some of the relationships are more important in the characters' lives than others, even if there are actually legit plot reasons why some of them have to be referenced more often. It STILL gives that impression (and might actually be a giveaway that the writers haven't necessarily thought through some of the characters' roles in the story to the point where they ought to have).
The OTHER thing we talked about in the same conversation, which also ties into the above, is how much the characters appear to care about the effect that their actions have on specific people around them, things like: will this make Character X view me differently? Will this hurt Character X? And this is another place where you can end up running headlong into unintentional consequences with the characters' relative importance in the narrative, or even the relative fraught-ness of the relationships. For example: if your character spends a lot of time thinking about their rival (getting stronger! trying to beat them!) but they're happy and secure in their relationship with their love interest so they rarely have to think or worry about it, you're going to end up giving the overall impression that their connection to their rival is actually more emotionally charged than the romantic one! (See also: one possible reason why people so often ship enemies/rivals/uneasy-allies over best friends, e.g. Harry/Draco vs. Harry/Ron, or Derek/Stiles vs. Scott/Stiles.
I kinda hate bringing up too many specific examples because I know some people are going to disagree - we're all watching different shows, etc - but since Sheron and I are both in Agent Carter fandom, we talked fairly extensively about Peggy & Angie vs. Peggy & the guys at the SSR. I'll just go ahead and put this under a cut because it's getting long and is also kind of spoilery for AC.( The rest of it - some season 1 & 2 spoilers for Agent CarterCollapse )
That being said, there's also a certain confirmation bias with this kind of thing. I think you tend to notice those offhand mentions more when you're already invested in the relationship. And especially if you are
invested, it's like a lovely little Easter egg, and it makes the relationships feel so much deeper and the world so much richer. (I love how Hambly does this in the Ben January books, for example. Ben thinks about his friends a lot
when they're not around. The overall impression is that he's a guy who really gets attached to people, and it makes the other characters feel present even in books in which they don't appear.) I think if you never
have characters do this, they come across cold - which might be what you're going for, but might not be. And if you only have them do it with certain other characters, it's going to seem like they spend more time thinking about those characters than anybody else, even if it's literally because it's a murder mystery and they're wondering if the other character committed the murder, but it'll STILL come across that way a little bit if it's not balanced by other instances of thinking/worrying about other people in their lives.
I never considered this at all before having that conversation with Sheron, and now I think about it a lot, in my own writing as well.
tl;dr - enhance your characters' relationships by have your characters think about the other one when they're not onstage!
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