7 Tips to Creating a Rivalry

Naruto vs Sasuke

Rivalries can make or break characters because everyone needs a little adversity when they’re protagonists.  I’m not only talking about heroes and villains, but even the friendly competitions that force two people to excel.  There doesn’t always have to be animosity like in War of Nytefall: Rivlary since you can even call allies rivals in some stories.  Legolas and Gimli were this to some extent with their contest.  Cyclops and Wolverine are allies and romantic rivals.  The point of a rivalry is that there is some type of ‘conflict’ that pits them against each other to some extent.  So, what are some things to consider when creating a rivalry?

  1. You don’t have to make the characters hate each other.  They can still have respect and consider each other rivals.  A sense of competition and conflict doesn’t always come with negativity.  Consider what the two characters want in the end and decide if it’s worth making one of them a villain.  You can even write a whole story about a friendly competition if you think it through.
  2. The underdog is a common character in rivalries.  This is typically your main protagonist who is trying to pass a stronger character.  Having a powerful opponent can force them to train harder and become more disciplined, especially if they are facing someone with ‘natural’ talent.  One thing to be careful of is not to make the underdog rise too quickly.  That could make your other character appear weak and destroy the whole rivalry.  Was the inferiority all in the hero’s head?
  3. Don’t forget to have both sides get stronger if you want them to be seen as equals.  It comes off as one-sided when a character grows and the other stays the same.  In fact, this can easily backfire into turning the ‘lazier’ hero rival into the villain because they’re seen as smug.  You could also give them an ego as they watch their friend train, which could make for a bad reaction to losing.  That’s if they aren’t enemies, which means the fall could be even worse for a villain. Remember that there are at least two sides to every rivalry.
  4. Create a believable reason for the rivalry.  Hatred and other negative emotions are easy to use since they’re realistic motivators for action.  Avenging a slight is fairly common and possibly overdone, but it’s so basic that you can twist it easily.  Something to consider is that it could be more the passion and emotion that the characters feel towards the core of the rivalry than the actual topic.  If they are rather lackluster about fighting over a trophy then the audience won’t care either.  Yet, an emotional rivalry that happens between roommates because one drank the last chocolate milk of the other could grab people.
  5. As odd as it sounds, you can have a rivalry with more than one person.  It can get messy and chaotic, but it can also be realistic.  A prize or goal isn’t always wanted by only two people, especially if it’s public knowledge.  In fact, you can look at sports and see how everyone in the league is competing for the same shiny object.  You don’t have to be that massive because it would be a headache, but you can pick a handful of interesting characters to highlight.
  6. Never be afraid to include mean nicknames.  Yeah, it’s immature, but you can have a lot of fun with it.
  7. Keep the audience guessing about who will win in the end.  It can be fairly easy to make such a finale clear, especially if you go with hero vs villain.  Yet, you can do some back and forth in the hopes of throwing people off.  Some might enjoy the journey even if they know the destination, but you have to put some effort into masking most, if not all, of the details.

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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26 Responses to 7 Tips to Creating a Rivalry

  1. David Davis says:

    Great tips as my rivalry evolves between the aliens and the Beacons of Night in my serial blog Alien Resort. Since my story is just now evolving, I hadn’t considered your points 3,4, and 7 but thank you for helping to seed my imagination.


  2. The best rivalries are with two strong characters who respect each other. Excellent points, Charles. I liked the one about mean nicknames. There can be a lot of laughs if they are clever enough. Thanks. These are useful for any genre.


  3. Great stuff, and you always seem to be timely on these for my purposes. I’m toying with the idea of Lizzie and the Pythons developing a rivalry with another band. It’s a future story, so I haven’t put a lot of effort in yet.


  4. Thank you another great advice, Charles! Very appreciated! Michael


  5. Reblogged this on Author Don Massenzio and commented:
    Check out this post from Charles Yallowitz with 7 Tips to Creating a Rivalry


  6. GinH says:

    I couldn’t help but think about izuku Midoriya and Katzuki Bakugo from My Hero Academia (https://bokunoheroacademia.fandom.com/wiki/List_of_Characters). They’re probably my favourite of all rivals. By the end of season three, spoiler/not spoiler: they have a sincere “I need to be better to beat you out of respect for you” kind of rivalry.


  7. I think another way to treat this is for one of the rivals to remain friendly and competitive, while the other one gets angrier and loses sight of the friendship. If the “darker” rival continues taking every moment to upstage his opponent, they can slip over into being a bully.


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