Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Guest Post: "Engaging Relationships Sell" by J.L. Greger

This is the third guest post J.L. (Janet) Greger has done for one of my blogs. Can you tell I enjoy what she has to share? If you wonder how to make your relationship scenes support your story, this just might be what you need!

I doubt many novels have been written about a hero/heroine who didn’t interact (actually or virtually) with other people or animals. Think about it. Relationships, not really appearances or jobs, make characters (lovers, families, friends, neighbors, colleagues, or enemies) interesting to readers.

What are simple ways to make fictional relationships seem real?
I looked at dozens of columns written by psychologists, experts on managing stress in the workplace, and writers of columns to the “lovelorn.” In essence, they mentioned four key issues central to all relationships.

You can add depth to your novels by examining your characters and their relationships in terms of these parameters. 
1) Communications.
A sympathetic protagonist listens patiently to others. He/she communicates through actions as well as orally. For example, a wealthy male protagonist might seem more lovable if he did a load of laundry for his partner without being asked than if he bought a dozen roses.

Don’t fall into the Hollywood cliché of having the hero or heroine “just know what his his/her partner wants.” Psychologists are convinced this is unrealistic.

Characters not interested in a relationship interrupt, raise their voice, doodle, look at their watch, or pick at their nails when others are talking. They nag their cohorts. These are good traits for villains.

2) Goals.
Allies or lovers, who have no shared goals, are not realistic partners on a long–term basis. The dissolution of shared goals (divorce, business failure, or war) is the basis of strong plots. Authors tend to build more psychological tension into their novels when they allow characters to mourn the loss of a shared relationship.

If one of your character steamrolls the rights of others to attain a shared goal, you have created a villain.

3) Struggle for control.
This is universal to all relationships. If you doubt the statement, think about raising children or training a dog. These struggles, when mainly petty bickering, can add humor to fiction or can foreshadow a crisis.

4) Trust.
Psychologists say relationships cannot last or function without trust. Although trust can be based on a major event, it usually develops over time in response to lots of small (almost inconsequential) behavior patterns.

According to psychologists, the “good guys” build trust because they: are on time; don't lie - not even little white lies; are fair, even in an argument; do what they promise; carry their fair share of the workload; don’t overreact when things go wrong; respects others; and aren’t jealous. I suspect a character, who is consistently trustworthy would be pretty boring.

As you write your next novel or story, think less about character development per se and more about relationship development. Readers want to recognize a bit of themselves in fictional relationships, but they also like to pity faulty interactions and dream of others. You may build a stronger relationship with your readers.

I hope you like Sara’s (my protagonist) relationships with Xave Zack in my thrillers Ignore the Pain and Malignancy.

 Blurb on Ignore the Pain. Sara Almquist couldn’t say no when invited to be the epidemiologist on a public health mission in Bolivia. Soon someone from her past in New Mexico is chasing her through the Witches’ Market of La Paz and on to the silver mines of Potosí. Unfortunately, she can’t trust her new colleagues, especially the sinister Xave Zack, because any one of them might be under the control of the coca industry in Bolivia.

Blurb on Malignancy. Men disguised as police officers shoot at Sara Almquist twice in one day. Albuquerque police suspect a drug czar, who Sara has tangled with several times, will order more hits on Sara. Thus when colleagues in the State Department invite Sara to arrange scientific exchanges between the U.S. and Cuba, she jumps at the chance to get out of town and to see the mysterious Xave Zack, who rescued her in Bolivia. Maybe, she should question their motives.

Ignore the Pain (http://amzn.com/1610091310) and Malignancy (http://amzn.com/1610091779 are available at Amazon and Oak Tree Press: pressdept@oaktreebooks.com.

Bio: As a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I honed my story-telling skills as I lectured to bleary-eyed students at 8:30 in the morning. Students remember chemical reactions better when the instructor attaches stories to the processes. 

Now I have two great passions – my Japanese Chin dog, Bug, and travel. I’ve included both in my novels: Coming Flu, Murder: A New Way to Lose Weight, Ignore the Pain, and Malignancy. You can learn more about me at my website: www.jlgreger.com and blog (JL Greger’s Bugs): www.jlgreger.com.


  1. Sharon, thanks for hosting me. I know my comments are mainly common sense, but I hope they make your readers think.

  2. As always, practical and informative. Thanks for appearing here.