Monday, June 23, 2014

Spicing up Your Novel with Teamwork

by Jessica Everingham

What if I told you there was a secret to supercharging the relationships—romantic or platonic—in your novel?

Fantasy, romance, suspense, this trick applies to any genre. It raises the stakes, it gets us to invest in the characters, sucks us in and won’t let us go. What is it?


Doesn’t sound amazingly exciting, I know.

But think about one of the greatest fictional relationships of all time—Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. TV shows and movies based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s characters always feature great mysteries, action and suspense. But so do a million other stories. Even Sherlock’s genius mind, while awesome, isn’t entirely unique. So what makes these London crime-fighters so great?

They are partners. With Holmes and Watson, 1+1 does not equal 2. They are ten times better together than apart. They fill one another’s deficiencies—Sherlock needs Watson to balance him out. They are brutally honest with one another, and their teamwork while crime-fighting is exceptional. Their relationship is so strong that they can fight and no one freaks out that the friendship is over. They’re buddies for life, and they know it.

How does this help the story? For starters, it raises the stakes in a big way. If Watson dies, where does that leave Sherlock? Any threat to their lives or relationship suddenly becomes a major issue. It also gives the writers plenty of room for witty banter and other humour.

Television shows have grasped this concept particularly well. Ever watched Castle? The Mentalist?  Covert Affairs? Each of these shows has a partnership at its core, and that is the glue that holds everything else together—even if the crimes, mystery and action get far more screen time.

So, what are some great ways to boost the relationships in your book? Here’s a quick checklist:
  • Banter. Witty dialogue is a real art. Jenny B. Jones’ book, Save The Date, is a great example. So is the movie Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
  • Shared history, memories and experiences.
  • Characters knowing what the other will do or say before they do or say it. Remember George Clooney and Brad Pitt’s characters having those half-sentence conversations in the Oceans 11 trilogy?
  • Brutal honesty, even insults. It’s a special relationship when you can tell your friend exactly what you think. Sherlock and Watson are great for this, in either the Robert Downey Jr movies or Benedict Cumberbatch’s BBC version.
  • Opposite personalities fill one another’s ‘holes’, i.e. Kirk and Spock, Holmes and Watson, Jane and Lisbon (The Mentalist), Castle and Beckett (Castle), or Becky Bloomwood and Luke Brandon (Confessions of a Shopoholic).
  • Terrific teamwork. Without even speaking, the characters know when to punch, duck, and kick together to defeat the bad guys. Think Shanghai Noon or Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
  • They can fight and still be friends. This goes another step beyond brutal honesty. Rarely can a relationship survive strong conflict or differing opinions; the fact that your characters can do this cements their relationship as unshakeable.
  • Emotional intimacy; the characters confide in one another and go to each other for advice, even if they are romantically involved with someone else. Annie and Auggie in Covert Affairs are a great example.
  • Self-sacrifice. This is a BIG ONE. Anytime a character sacrifices for the other it is a massive ‘awww’ moment. Even a villain, no matter how terrible, can be redeemed by a significant act of self-sacrifice. When a hero does it, it’s that much more heartwarming. Prince Charming and Snow White in Once Upon A Time are total experts at this. Also, before you have a massive sacrifice in your story, you can lead up to it by having one partner act defensive or protective of the other.
  • Trust. This is an absolute must. It’s the foundation of every partnership.

So there you have it. All the tools you need to create your own dynamic duo and inject extra humor, high personal stakes and even romance into your story.

Go dream up something awesome!

Jessica Everingham is a 22 year-old Australian blogger, journalist and aspiring author, and is about to start a new career as a course writer. She loves God, good stories and romance, and combines all those elements in her contemporary Christian romance novels. She loves to connect with fellow readers via her blog,, Facebook ( and Twitter (@JessEveringham).


  1. Thanks for that Jess. I hadn't given it much thought before, but you're right that a great partnership can add extra depth to a novel. As well as the two-partner teams, I also love books, movies and TV shows where there's a larger group dynamic. As a child, I loved the Secret Seven books and Trixie Belden books where a group of friends solved mysteries. Some of the best TV shows have had great ensemble casts (e.g., MASH, Frasier, NCIS). It's probably a lot harder to develop a partnership or a team where everyone is a well-drawn three-dimensional character, but it really can add that extra something and can also be a great way to develop a whole series. You've given me food for thought. Thanks for sharing :)

  2. Thanks Nola! I love studying relationship dynamics in movies, TV and novels. Often we know we like something, but don't know why. I'm trying to figure out the 'whys'. :)

  3. Thanks, Jess, for a really interesting blog and for letting us in on your journey in figuring out how and why the whole partnership idea works so well in book, movies etc. It certainly has given me food for thought for my next novel.

    1. Thanks Jo-Anne! It's habit for me now, to watch movies and TV shows with signs of good partnership in mind. It's helped my own novel a lot. I'm also studying humor and great villains, so watch this space. :)

  4. Thanks Jess. Some great thoughts about developing narrative partnerships.

    1. You're welcome Jeanette! I felt it was something often overlooked; writers often use partnership for platonic relationships, but leave it out of romance. Personally, my favorite romances involve great teamwork!

  5. Hi Jessica,
    That was a really entertaining post. Great partnerships and teams are so memorable. I love reading the banter of people who know each so well and are comfortable together. It also helps readers be able to find clues along the path, as we can flip back and discover some in the team dialogues. What I also love is that often, each member has their own strength, so while they are weaker apart, they are stronger together. It reminds me of a game where the name of one partner is called out, and we have to shout out the other.

    1. Thanks Paula! Glad you liked it. I've never heard any speaker or read any book where anybody valued partnership/teamwork in a romantic sense. Yet I see it sooooooo much, in TV especially. Everybody loves a great team!

  6. Great post Jess. I hadn't thought of it before - but you are so right. A due in our fiction certainly makes for interesting characters and situations that we can explore at depth through our writing. Thank you.

    1. Hi Anusha,
      Thanks for your kind words. :) It's so much fun to explore where a relationship can go, and teamwork/partnership adds a whole new dimension. Have fun with it!

  7. That was excellent detective work Miss Everingham! Let me add Laurel and Hardy and Abbott and Costello.(Old timers) I love Poirot and his bland sidekick. It means ze leetle Belgian detective has someone to whom he can spell out his conclusions rather than talking to himself.

    Ah, after your challenging blog, you may see a spate of partner novels flowing from our pens. (I mean tapping on our laptops)

  8. Hi Rita,
    Boy, I'd love to see that! Partner novels are the best, I love them. Happy writing. :)

  9. Thanks Jessica. I'll definitely be going over that checklist again in the future.

  10. Thanks for stopping by Adam. Glad it'll be useful for you in the future!