Sometimes, characters don’t get on. Sometimes, these characters grow closer. Let me tell you – I freaking love that. That’s character development at its finest. And none does it better than the hit crime show Person Of Interest.
This is PART TWO of a four part series on writing dynamic friendships, and working with the Enemies To Friends trope. In this post, I’ll show you how Person Of Interest does this with its two leads, Harold Finch and John Reese, and how the initial distrust is slowly, methodically, eased into trust. The writers behind this show worked hard to make one of the best developed friendships in TV.
Before we begin, I highly recommend you read part one, Start Your Characters Off On The Wrong Foot, where we looked at introducing your characters to each other when they don’t start out as friends.
How To Write Dynamic Friendships According To Person Of Interest
So far, Harold Finch has hired John Reese to help him prevent crimes. After some less–than–flattering first impressions and a confrontation, Finch and Reese work their first case and Finch reveals some details about the Machine, an AI he built that monitors everyone and uses this information to find who is about to be involved in a crime. He isn’t exactly forthcoming with this information, but releases it willingly when Reese pushes him.
While Reese is content with his new job, he has more than a few questions about his employer. He’s working his hardest to find out what he can about Finch – and Finch is working just as hard to keep him at arm’s length.
This leads nicely to the second stage of the Enemies To Friends trope. Stage One is all about mistrust. Stage Two is about respect.
4. When do your characters accept this is a long-term arrangement?
Teetering on the border of respect, there’s acceptance. If you’ve introduced your characters to each other properly, your characters will distrust each other but will also have a reason to stick together. Usually, this is the plot forcing them together. They don’t quite trust each other yet. They might not even like each other.
But circumstances have forced them to realise that they’re in this for a long time and they’ve come to terms with it. They’ve learnt to work together.
It’s no longer reluctant. It’s full-blown, hats-off, I’m-in-this-for-the-long-run acceptance.
For Reese and Finch, it’s them working together to save people. At first, Reese wasn’t too happy with this. But at this stage, he’s kicked that reluctance aside. He’s even enjoying it. He’s spend a lot of time wasting away without a purpose and now he has something in his life that was missing before.
Reese and Finch have no reason to argue or fight. All they care about is the job.
But it isn’t peaceful.
Remember, Reese is trying to discover Finch’s secrets, and Finch knows this. But neither of them are willing to compromise the job or the people they want to save. Their antagonism is still present, but it’s quiet and simmering in the background.
It might take a little longer for your characters. Ask yourself: Are they happy about the situation they’re in? If not, they’ll argue. They may even sabotage each other.
5. What traits or skills do your characters respect in the other?
Acceptance gives way to respect, even if it’s just a little. If your characters have been snidely bickering, now they have noted each other’s boundaries and have eased up on their prodding. The next step is to have your characters respect certain qualities about the other – a skill or a personality trait – and have them acknowledge this out loud. You know, compliments!
- What qualities do your characters admire?
- What situation can you put your characters in to reveal these qualities?
Reese quickly comes to respect just how intelligent Finch is. Finch created an AI. He’s good with computers. And he can find out just about everything about just about everyone. Reese…well, he’s not incompetent at that but he has nothing on Finch.
John Reese : How’d you find all that out?
Harold Finch : I’m good with computers.
John Reese : Be honest, Finch. There is no machine, is there? It’s just you.Season 1, episode 11: Super.
6. Getting comfortable? Time to test the boundaries!
Have your characters been poking and prodding at each other from the start, or have they stayed civil to avoid conflict? Either way, now they’re comfortable enough to start pushing boundaries.
Note that this is different from the straight-up antagonism at the start. This isn’t Reese smugly turning up at Finch’s day-job/cover identity to see how he’ll react. This is Reese making quips, Finch returning them, and vice versa. This is where we’re shown the potential for friendship.
There’s a great moment in season 1, episode 11 Super, when Reese is injured and Finch is the one who needs to do the legwork. Reese, knowing Finch isn’t a fan of guns or violence, describes a pretty unpleasant defence technique in case Finch gets in trouble.
John Reese : If Trask comes at you, put your fingers straight out like this and strike at his eyes.
Harold Finch : Poke him in the eyes? That’s your technique?
John Reese : No that’s YOUR technique. And if that doesn’t work you can always take your thumb, jam it in his eye socket and twist until you hit his brain.
This is a good place to lighten up and develop a rapport. It’s not quite harmless. It’s still a little tense, like those few first jokes with a stranger that don’t quite land. Some jokes might go too far, and have the less-trusting putting up their walls again.
Remember not to have your character bicker too much. That can get repetitive and tiring. If your characters do push too far, have them show remorse.
Why Respect Matters
The problem with introducing your characters as enemies is that it introduces a touch of awkwardness. If you want to take your dynamic on step further and go Enemies to Lovers, then you might earn a few raised eyebrows. Having baggage isn’t comfortable. Having two characters you want to be together bicker and fight can result in an unhealthy relationship. Whether friends or lovers is your end goal, you need to bring the participants together in a way that shows they’ve grown as people and their bad introduction won’t come back to haunt them. Without respect, a healthy friendship can’t form.
- Have your characters accept the fact they are working together.
- Show that they respect a specific skill or trait in the other.
- Let them get comfortable enough to gently test each other’s boundaries.
There will be further steps to come the next part of this series. But for now, this is fundamental building block of trust and mutual respect that will lead to friendship.
Next Up: Deepen Your Character Relationships With These Tricks