Shipping Your Own Characters

I've heard it said from creatives quite often, that they "can't ship their own characters". Admittedly, I fall victim to this a bit; I write characters into relationships, but I don't often consider how they might pair with anyone other than who I'm intending for them. Anyone else have this?

It needn't be a problem at all. If you write certain characters for each other than you, as the author, won't catch (deserved) flak over it as long as you put forth the effort to make the relationships legitimate and readable.

Something can be said about warding your story from being "tangled by the red string". Though. If Bob and Ann can't save the world because they're too busy sucking face, something is probably wrong. Of course, that would be a perfect bit for a deconstruction or comedy piece.

Don't worry about it too much, I'm sure you'll be fine.

Depends upon the writer, more than anything.

Some writers legitimately *cannot* write good romance, for whatever reason. Romantic relationships, like any other complex relationship, takes skill to properly convey, and of a specific sort that not everyone's capable of. The human brain is wired to hyper-focus on interpersonal relationships in the same way they're wired to hyper-focus on human faces- and ask any artist, the human face is *the most difficult* thing to portray, and the same is true of human relationships.

Although if you're a good writer, you can make that work as well. Tennessee Williams is my go-to writer for the purposes of "how to write relationships AMAZINGLY well." All his stuff is focused almost exclusively on interpersonal drama, at a level that most people can't even comprehend, and those that do comprehend can only witness with joy and envy. And I'll put Kevin Smith up as his light mirror (no, seriously, Smith is also brilliant at relationships, but his are much more lighthearted).

Romance goes One Step Beyond the other complex relationships, because it's Voluntary, Intimate, *and* Exclusive.


Voluntary relationships have to answer a question the audience may not consciously ask, but *will* subconsciously ask. Like "why do these two people choose to be near each other?" Now, that can often be easily answered (and will be answered natively if the story's half competent), but it *must* be answered. Person A must always gain *something* by associating with Person B, and vice-versa, or they wouldn't associate with each other. Answers can range from 'similar sense of humor' to 'one's timid and the other's controlling' to 'they're hyper-competent criminals who make lots of money working together' to 'they're both really good in bed', with a billion other possible motives in between.

When looking at a Kevin Smith work, you can see this in full, beautiful effect as these characters- and the actors- have so much chemistry, and they *feel* like friends who've known each other for years. They give each other shit in the same sentence as they're supporting the other's decisions and promising to be there to help, all without actually speaking a promise at all. It's beautiful.

A voluntary relationship which appears toxic can really piss off an audience- it shows *huge* character flaws relating to the characters in said relationship (a double edge sword in its own right). More- great care must be taken to show that the author knows the relationship is bad, while still allowing it to happen, all without forcing a morality lesson down the readers' throats by shouting "See how terrible this is! Let's spend half the book repeatedly hammering in how terrible this is!"

Unless you're Tennessee Williams. (STELLA!!!!)


Intimate (that doesn't necessarily mean sexual- neither requires the other) relationships are the ones which reveal the two characters' deepest natures. Who they truly are, where they come from, the secrets that no other human being knows. Intimacy is vulnerability, and a writer of any skill knows that characters are at their most *significant* when at their most vulnerable. Intimate isn't always voluntary- after all, you can learn a lot about your characters by their relationship with their parents, or siblings, or children. But that 'why are they siblings' is never asked by an audience- it was assigned, not chosen, and so you can have toxic intimate relationships that don't bring down the hate like voluntary relationships might.

For my entries here, I give you Glass Menagerie and Chasing Amy. What I consider the finest works of Williams and Smith, respectively- certainly the best in terms of showcasing their mastery of intimate relationships and the characters in them. Both show deeply complicated people with deeply complicated lives struggling to figure out who they are beneath all the bullshit, and all of them eventually find out, and none of them like what they learn about themselves.


Then there's the last one: Exclusivity. The thing about Romance is that (baring certain exceptions that are usually toxic) unlike most other relationships, there's an opportunity cost. By being with Character X, Character Y must close the door on being with Character Z... and that can be a serious problem if Z is nicer or otherwise appears to be a "better fit" for Y than X is. And what constitutes "better fit" is so subjective as to be impossible to predict.

Being aware of that is a powerful tool, if used correctly. I had that in mind in one of my stories, so I blocked the most obvious pairing (both characters being somewhere in the 'crude somewhat pervy jackass with a heart of gold' archetype) by making the characters siblings. Killed that one before it ever started, I did. And so allowed both of them to have strong chemistry with each other, without upsetting the fan base. Well, I'm sure *somebody* will still ship them, but they're probably not going to rage over them not being together.

It is a tight needle to thread, and half the reason that most "harem anime" style stories steadfastly refuse to hook the main up with any of the love interests. Because the second they do, half the fanbase will go for their torches. The other reason is because sexual tension is a popular trope even in shows that have two lead characters without any competition for the other's affections.


So, yeah, the TL;DR on relationships: you must be aware of what each character interaction means for the characters- what they gain in that relationship as well as what they lose- and romance is the bad-ass grandmother of all relationships. More or less literally, since it's awful hard to have any relationships without someone having reproduced at some point.

Is it really "shipping" if its just the author telling their own story? I thought that was just called a romance plot. Unless the story you're doing is about characters in the dating scene trying to find a partner OR you're doing some kind of love polygon will-they-won't-they soap opera, I don't really see much point in wondering about relationships beyond what's the "canon" you've decide on. I frankly find "shipping" to be a really annoying subset of fandom, and I really don't care who ends up with who in a story as long as the story itself is well done and entertaining.

Anyway, I myself very rarely ever bother with romance or relationships in my stories. The few couples I have are usually already couples to start with. For all my thousands of characters I can list on one hand the number of couples that are developing into a couple in-story. This is another case where having characters sort of organically write themselves has proven to be the best method for me. I had one series with a quartet of main characters, wherein my first thought was to hook up characters A and B as one couple, and C and D as another. Well, as I wrote their scenes, I ended up finding that characters B and C had a chemistry the others didn't and more naturally came together, whereas character A had no real interest in romance, while character D was more interested in flings with no-name side characters. It was an interesting process.

I guess overall, I'm just not invested in such relationships. But more often than not "shipping" really doesn't seem to be about forming a relationship, but just taking two characters the writer thinks is hot, and getting them in bed together, while saying some generic romance dialogue. On that shallow level, sure, I could mix and match characters all day, but there wouldn't be the sort of enthusiasm for it that seeing an organically developed relationship would bring.

I tend to agree on 'shipping your own characters'. Like, I'll tell a lovestory, but I'll never look at characters I write who aren't together and think about how they'd fit. If I wanted them together, I'd just make that happen, you know?

I put romances into almost everything I write, and I kind of enjoy it when my readers start going "I ship it!" Sometimes I'll even throw in my own sarcastic suggestion, (like, "I ship the abusive bad guy and the timid young lady!") What bugs me is 1. When the romance actually begins, and people whine because it wasn't the way they wanted it. Okay, sure, express your disappointment, but I've had people leave repeated comments about how much better THEIR ship was, and how I should go back and rewrite everything to do it their way. The other thing I don't like is when they start shipping people who CLEARLY don't go together. Like when everyone wanted Harry and Draco to get together because it was, like, omg, sooooo obvs that they were, like, yaoi for each other squeeeee!

I know I'm a bit of an oddity, but, I find shipping to be one of the cringy things that fans do. I mean really, I'm not big on romance in writing my own stuff and I get annoyed when I have to read too much of it from everyone else. I don't go around trying to pair characters off who don't have a drop of chemistry together. I don't find such things cut at all. Heck, it took a lot of thinking and debating on my part to allow the two people who are a romantic couple in my story to be one.

I mean honestly though, I don't care about non-cannon relationships in my story. I don't see the point in dwelling on them because I rather focus on the ones that do exist and construct them to work and have meaning. Plus I'm not sure how writer's can ship their own characters.

Great responses everyone! Personally, I am fond of shipping, but not shipping without reason behind it. Myself, it's hard to entertain the idea of noncanon couples simply because if I find I like two characters together, I'll put them together; I'm not about to be like, "You know, X and Y would go together really well, but I won't make that canon." If I like two characters together, it's because I see chemistry there... And who knows if someone might see chemistry in my work that isn't what's canon? Some authors can entertain the idea of noncanon couples easily, but I find I really can't even when I find it easy to think characters of other people's might be good together. I know that one indie game creator Hato Moa doesn't ship any of her characters, but will gladly give her opinion on ships if asked, and did adopt the fanon name of "Quail Boyfriends" for two of her characters who were very (unhealthily) romantically coded

Just thought I'd mention - Crossovers. I have "shipped" there, in a sense. Character from Story A sucking face with Character from Story B because dimensional anomaly and they're just fun to picture together... in fact, that's kind of literally happening in "Epsilon" right now. Not because I planned it, it's just these two individuals seem to have gravitated together.

In fact, that's sort of how all my story relationships go, the characters decide, not me. I started T&T with Carrie and Frank early on, figuring they might end up together at the very end. I seriously could not have been more wrong (though they became good friends). So since I rarely have a designated pairing to start, in a sense I'm "shipping" the whole way through, to see what works out best.

As to the fan side of things, I've never really come across it personally... I guess I could entertain the thought, if there was logic behind it, but that'd be for some parallel timeline, not the one I'm writing.