Musings, Writing Tips

Characterization: Complex Relationships

I’m going to start out with a spoiler alert (although technically these are older works.)

Spoiler Alert for anyone who hasn’t read the Harry Potter Series and Little Women. Consider yourself warned.

I want to talk about characterization in interpersonal relationships, and I’m going to use examples. You can drop a few characters onto a page and make them interact. Creating meaningful connections needs to come from somewhere deeper within each one. Claiming two characters are best friends does not make it believable unless the reader can see their interaction. These are often things we do not explain to the reader. Much of this type of characterization comes from research, backstory, and the psychological makeup of each individual character.

Recently I’ve been seeing a lot about the debate in the Harry Potter series discussing the way characters paired off in the end. Rupert Grint even gave an interview stating Ron would probably divorce Hermione. Even J. K. Rowling herself has admitted putting Ron and Hermione together was her own form of wish fulfillment.

The other side of the debate is how in the world did Harry end up with Ginny?

I don’t know Ms. Rowling or how her world building was done, so I can’t say if she admitted this due to societal pressure from the debate or of her own understanding of psychology. Even if Harry and Hermione would have been a better match from the standpoint of building healthy relationships, Harry’s relationship to Ginny makes complete sense considering his backstory.

This is an excellent time to take a look at character development on a much deeper level. We meet Harry just before he turns eleven years old as an abused child. s an abused child.

He doesn’t have a room of his own and is kept in a closet despite the house having ample space. He’s fed and clean but treated like a servant rather than a family member. His parents are dead. He fantasizes about them constantly, and what it would be like to be part of a loving family. He’s alone, isolated, and friendless.

Hogwarts was a fantastic school and Dumbledore a good mentor, but the reality is Harry never receives the proper therapy to overcome that abuse. On the contrary, every summer he was carted back into that environment. He’s promised being with his horrible aunt is keeping him safe. How would that make a child feel, to hear that these people who don’t want him are his only hope?

Now consider the questions “what does this character want more than anything?”

The answer is pretty simple. Harry wants a family that loves him, accepts him, and protects him.

The Weasley family is exactly what Harry wants. Their giant house is stacked to the roof with siblings. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley accept Harry from the moment they meet him. Ron is the brother he never had in life.

Although Harry is accepted into the family, what better way to assure permanence than through marriage? Once they have children he will then be linked genetically as well.

I’m sure the Grangers are lovely people (although one of them is probably a super perfectionist,) but we never really see them. Hermione is an only child. Intellectually and emotionally she may be the better choice for Harry. Damaged humans, however; tend to make choices that they think will repair that damage, even if they are wrong.

Also consider this from Ron’s point of view. The Grangers are a quiet, small family compared to his over abundant family at home. He’s trading hand-me-downs for quiet Sunday brunch with the muggles.

This isn’t the only time relationships in literature have caused an outcry. Let’s instead look at another book where two characters who seemed destined for love do not end up together: Little Women.

Like many girls, I read Louisa May Alcott’s famous novel as a teenager. I was so angry when Jo turned down Laurie’s proposal that I nearly stopped reading. At the time, it didn’t make sense to me because I saw the romance instead of what the book was attempting to teach to young girls.

Ms. Alcott purposefully chose for Jo not to marry Laurie. She wanted the girls reading her book to focus on things other than the romance. In the end, Laurie ends up with Amy instead.


Laurie is actually not all that different than Harry. He is an orphan, being raised by a stanch grandfather. He’s wealthy (even though Harry didn’t grow up wealthy, he truly was.) He’s unsure of his place in the world. He’s lonely.

Meeting the March family is a breath of fresh air. The rambunctious sisters and their games is just what he has wanted. It is his wish to become part of the family rather than a welcome outsider.

Regardless of whether this type of characterization is intentional or not, the relationships in Harry Potter and Little Women are both examples of fictional people behaving like living, breathing human beings.

It drives the reader emotionally to see their favorite characters make choices they disagree with or make obvious mistakes, but that’s because it speaks to all of us on a much deeper level. It’s like watching your friend in the same situation and knowing there’s nothing you can do to stop them. At the same time, the realism of these relationships is what makes them believable and memorable.

Thanks for reading as always. If you have any examples of characters behaving on their deeper psychology, let me know in the comments.



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