There is absolutely a time and a place to have all your main characters in a story get along. However, just like in real life, human beings don’t always mesh right away: we typically call this, “friction”. This actually can become a powerful, (and FUN!) writing tool to use when creating your stories! Too many times new writers want their characters to be ‘liked’ so much that they avoid putting them into confrontation with the other characters around them, or from giving them flaws that make agitating to the audience. However, that’s where the magic can be, so understanding how it works and reviewing a few methods can seriously spice up your next project!
My favorite trope for friction is the “Buddy Cop” scenario. I think movies like Lethal Weapon are the gold standard to study to see how to craft that recipe.
But before I dive in, just be aware that the “Buddy Cop” trope is my favorite to use, but it’s not the only one by a longshot. We all know the circumstances of how two people who don’t like each other end up tolerating each other long enough to work together. In fact, many of these tropes intersect with each other!
- “The Enemy of My Enemy is My Friend” – I LOVE this one: two people have to team up because there is something worse for them to fight, and likely both will die if they don’t combine forces. (Ex: Blade 2)
- “Mutual Purpose” – “We both want the same thing. Mostly.” Mutual Purpose just means both parties having intersecting desires; they may have a lot that isn’t in common, but it’s that slim intersection that is going to push them to cooperate, if only temporarily. (Ex: Predator 2 – both men want to find the Predator.)
- “Quid Pro Quo” – You do this for me, I do this for you. Simple enough; even if they hate each other, they need each other, because each person has something the other wants.
- “Keep Your Friends Close, and Your Enemies Closer”: I love this one; you’re really only working with the person you hate because you KNOW they will try to backstab you the first chance they get. So you keep them close to try to see it coming and turn the tables.
All of these are great ways to get two people/parties that could even hate each other to cooperate, because it’s within each party’s individual interest to do so. For now. 😀
- Buddy Cop
Why I love this trope the best is pretty simple: you can combine two people with vastly different personalities together into an effective team without losing what makes each one individually interesting. At the same time, we can show how the two individuals can become even better as a team!
The more different they are, the better it works when they overcome those differences and start to work as a team.
How does it work? Well, it’s basically a recipe:
- Take two vastly differing characters
- Give them each some good qualities and bad qualities
- Put them in a high stakes/high risk scenario
- Make the plot demand that each one has particular skills that contribute to the success of their joint mission
- Start with distrust between the two characters and “growing pains”, but give them time to see the value in what the other person does
- Then, finish off by each character learning something and growing due to the other
Yes, the characters may hate each other, but they must each have some slack in their character that allows them room to make compromises. This can be because a character has enough self-awareness that they know they lack a skill or ability, or because they intellectually know the other character has something they need.
Both characters, to some extent, never need to like each other, but should RESPECT each other, up to a point. They might betray each other during the story or at the end, but while they are working together, writing in why both characters are willing to play along is important. That keeps the audience invested, even if both characters double cross each other at the end. If you use a positive method, like Buddy Cop story telling, the payoff becomes how the two move from hating each other to friendship.