It's About Chemistry! (Because Science)

One of the things that can really make a story shine is the chemistry between characters. Not just in romance novels (although it’s VITAL in romance novels), but also the chemistry between friends, and occasionally even the chemistry between the protagonist and the antagonist.

These kinds of sparks add a lot to your novel and can really deepen relationships between characters. The most important thing to remember when looking at chemistry is that each of these characters needs to stand out from the crowd in some way so that the other pays attention to them. It’s really difficult to create chemistry between characters who aren’t focused on each other.

When you’re setting up the chemistry for your key relationships, whether it’s romantic, friendly, or antagonistic, there are three elements you should look at.

1. Each character should provide some characteristic, trait, or ability that the other one is missing so that they balance each other.

Have you ever heard the saying opposites attract? While it’s important to have things in common with the people that you’re in relationships with, it is just as important to have differences. Nobody is good at everything. And when you’re creating a character, if you want them to be realistic and relatable, they need to have flaws and weaknesses. Then, to help them grow, it’s nice to pair them with a different character who has opposing or complementary strengths and weaknesses. These can be antagonists who are two sides of the same coin and who challenge each other—like Batman and the Joker—or these can be partners who are stronger together than they are apart—like John and Sherlock (especially in the BBC version). 

2. These characters should be the people that understand each other—that just get it—when no one else does.

Part of this goes back to the idea of paying attention. Characters that have chemistry, especially romantic characters, should be paying enough attention to each other that they can understand what the other one needs, not just what they say they want. For example, in the Sookie Stackhouse novels, there are many times when Eric Northman just shows up with the thing that Sookie needs. She never asks for it, he just noticed that the driveway needed to be replaced, or that she needed a new coat. And the fact that he was paying enough attention to understand that shows that the two of them have a strong connection.

3. These are the characters who are there when it counts.

They share a lot of the big moments together, and there’s a certain level of trust between them. Despite tension and or surprises in other areas, there are times when these characters can trust each other to either have each other’s backs or to behave in a certain way. When your hero has just received devastating news, this is the character who shows up to cheer him up. When your heroine has just charged into a showdown with a dragon, this is the character who will be there to have her back (even though they just had that big fight). And when it truly comes down to it, when the fate of the entire world is at stake, this is the character your protagonist relies on to keep their word, even if it’s not in their best interest or everyone else thinks they are insane.

What is the most important relationship in your story? Is it a romance? A friendship/partnership? Or is it the relationship between the hero and the villain? Whatever the answer, that is the relationship where it is most important to insert chemistry and balance. Hopefully these tips will help! 

Have a question for one of our editors? Let us know in the comments below!

Author spotlight

Holly West

Senior Editor at Swoon Reads and Feiwel & Friends. Giant geek. Dedicated fangirl. Half-Elven Rogue Cleric. Also answers to That-Girl-Who-Reads-A-Lot.

See More