How to Write Believable Relationships That You Haven’t Personally Had

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I was raised by a single mother, so I cannot for the life of me write a believable father. Any advice?

I have this same problem! My parents divorced when I was little and my dad only lived an hour away and was/is very involved in my life, but I still find myself always writing young characters whose fathers don’t live in the same house.

I think the bigger issue at hand is how to write relationships that you haven’t experienced. I don’t have any sisters or female cousins, both of my grandfathers passed away before I was born, I’ve never dated a girl. So it’s harder for me to write these relationships.

As with all things you haven’t experienced, research is key. We have a whole topic on writing things you haven’t experienced that may be helpful.

Keep in mind that research doesn’t just mean going to the library and looking up “father” in the encyclopedia. That is part of it, but there are two more things you can do that I think are much more helpful:

1. Observe. Try to think of some friends or family members who have relationships with their fathers who are similar to the relationship you’re trying to write. Are you writing about a toddler and her young, first-time dad? Call up your cousin who just had his first baby and see if you can hang out, or go to a local playground. Writing about an angsty teenager who feels like he can’t live up to his dad’s expectations? Go hang out at your high school buddy’s house when his dad is home. 

While there, observe the dynamic of these relationships and what makes them unique. What do the father and son/daughter say about one another? How do they act around each other, as opposed to when apart? What is their dialogue like?

You don’t necessarily have to set up specific get-togethers or “appointments” to make these observations; just generally be more cognoscente of the father-son/daughter relationships that you come in close encounter with.

2. Read. There are myriad great fathers in literature—Atticus Finch, Arthur Weasley, King Lear. Revisit some of your favorite (or least favorite, depending on the father character you want to create) and try to see what made them memorable. Why does that relationship stick out in your literary memory? How did the narrator, or other of his children, characterize him? 

Here’s a funny article about some famous literary dads to jog your memory of some of your favorites.

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Hope that helps! If anyone has anything to add, send an ask.

This topic has been added to the Advice page as “Relationships Research" under both the Characterization and Research headings. This and all related posts will be filed there!

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