QOTW: Character Chemistry

12 Nov


This week, the question comes from Ramani, who asks:

People keep talking about all this chemistry between two characters before for readers to believe they are actually in love. My question is… what do you consider chemistry?

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Great question. I think chemistry in real life is not the same as chemistry on the page… On the page I feel like it’s an undeniable attraction between characters, but there’s some HUGE reason they can’t be together. Maybe they hate each other (Pride & Prejudice), he wants to eat her (Twilight), she can’t be with him because they’re not “free” (Shakespeare in Love), or he’s the bad guy (Son of the Shadows).

When I’m writing character-chemistry, that’s how I approach it. Push/pull. Desire/obstacle.

The Newest LTWF Contributor!

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I agree with Susan. Chemistry most usually arises out of conflict, e.g. the characters want each other but something is in the way. In high school, it’s probably shyness and fear of rejection, so the characters moon at each other most of the book but never quite get up the courage to get together.

Chemistry can have a different meaning too, however. For example, well established couples can still have chemistry that stems from their mutual desire. Friends can have great chemistry as well. Chemistry in these cases is the energy that arises between two people when they interact.

-The Writer Condensing Three Books Into One

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For me, chemistry is more than just “OHMYGAWD he has the most gorgeous blue eyes and rock hard abs!”. It’s a chemistry between your character’s personalities. And yes, chemistry also involves the physical to some extent – but they don’t need to be so extreme or quite so superficial. Sometimes, you start to notice things like the size of someone’s hands, or how close they’re standing to you, or how nervous they make you – it doesn’t have to be the chiseled good looks or enormous breasts. And good chemistry will often involve a bit of tension – and conflict is one of the best ways to go about that. Because really, who wants to read about two people falling in love at first sight who live happily ever after without anything coming between them? No one. Everyone loves to see the unwanted chemistry, or the friendships that turn awkward, the enemies who can’t help but want one another. It’s cliché, but you can make it less cliché when you give your characters flaws and complex personalities.

Chemistry can also be when conversation flows naturally and easily between two people (be they friends, or rivals, or whatnot). It really depends on what kind of chemistry between characters you’re looking for – the chemistry between friends and family (or perhaps a lack thereof), or the chemistry that leads to a romantic relationship (between a boy and a girl, or two boys, or two girls). You’ll know when characters lack chemistry when dialogue and physical interactions fall flat.

The Writer in the Publishing Industry Working On Her First Novel!

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I’ve always thought of chemistry as what you have when two characters can’t ignore each other. They may believe they hate one another, or that they are completely indifferent, but the reader can see that something binds them. The old adage, “opposites attract” seems to apply to a lot of fictional relationships with strong chemistry. Reiterating what Susan said, it can help quite a bit if the characters’ goals are at odds.

The Writer on Submissions!

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What’s YOUR definition of chemistry?

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9 Responses to “QOTW: Character Chemistry”

  1. Julie Eshbaugh November 12, 2010 at 10:10 AM #

    I LOVED this week’s question! Thanks Ramani! All my stories have romance in them, and the issue of chemistry can make or break a love story. It was fun to see everyone’s answers! 🙂

  2. ohemgillie November 12, 2010 at 11:43 AM #

    It’s interesting that Julie brought up characters who don’t get along. Chemistry shouldn’t be solely the stuff of romance. Rival co-workers can have great chemistry as they jockey for position in the office. Political opponents should be able to fight in a compelling way.

    For me, chemistry is about two people waking up a fiery wit in one another, for better or worse.

  3. Lindsay November 12, 2010 at 12:30 PM #

    Vanessa-The awkward friendships can be the most entertaining and like you said don’t have to be cliche if done well.

    Julie-What a great way to put it. Why they can’t ignore each other. Chemistry is far beyond romance. Elizabeth and Darcy are fun but what about Elizabeth and Lady Catherine de Bourgh? Every scene is gripping because of the hate that will never turn to love. I keep begging for another round of fighting!

    My idea of chemistry done well is when two people must be put into the same room together, again. If done right I’m waiting through every scene when what you thought would happen suddenly goes astray and something new comes out. Maybe for me it means unpredictability.

    Great question this week!

    • Vanessa Di Gregorio November 15, 2010 at 4:05 PM #

      Man, I love awkward friendships. But I just love awkward situations between people. 😛

  4. Henya November 12, 2010 at 12:40 PM #

    What a great question and even greater answers. In my book I am dealing with just that: A bad guy and a woman stuck in an uncomfortable situation. Nothing in their background, beliefs, ideals should bring them together one way or another. Yet, there is tension.

    Having read all three comments, reinforced the fine line I have been walking.

    Thanks again!

  5. Cassie November 12, 2010 at 4:14 PM #

    I love that Vanessa mentioned that there are two types of chemistry – one that leads to love and one that is between friends. I LOVE reading a good dialogue between friends – Looking For Alaska by John Green is my favorite example. I feel in love (I keep using that word don’t I? *sigh*) with the dialogue between Pudge & the Colonel & Alaska. They were so snarky with each other but it never affected their relationship in a negative way. I lov…er, REALLY ENJOYED the book so much because the chemistry gleamed through the dialogue and made the trio’s becoming so close so fast just that much more believable.

    And as for (romantic) tension, I’m gonna have to pull out the big guns and use The Great Gatsby as a prime example. I’ve read that book more times than I can count; but whenever I reach the part where Gatsby knocks that clock off the mantle in his nervousness, I can’t help but flinch out of embarrassment for him! The tension in scenes with Gatsby and Daisy is so palpable, I often find my stomach turning in discomfort and my heart wrenching for the pair!

    This was such a great article! I got so into it hahaha (…as you can tell ><)

    • katharine November 13, 2010 at 7:32 AM #

      Thanks ladies for the thoughtful post. Nice to hear everyone’s take on what makes chemistry.

      I agree with several of the commenters about the chemistry between friends or enemies. It is just as important as that romantic chemistry.

      @Cassie- you are so right about LFA. Those friends have some of the best dialogue out there. John Greene is so good at that. The friends in Paper Towns had a different vibe, but lots of chemistry there, too.

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  1. QOTW: Romantic Interest « Let The Words Flow - March 25, 2011

    […] Secondly, there has to be CHEMISTRY!!! Chemistry arises from (you guessed it) conflict. We already did a QOTW about that here. […]

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