Forced Proximity In Writing

As I've done in years past, February's blog posts center around writing romance.


It's a perfect time to dive into an element you'll see me favoring in my own stories: forced proximity.


Forced proximity in fiction has to do with throwing your characters, typically love interests, into a situation where interaction is inevitable. You may have seen this in the form of the "There's only one bed" trope or being stuck in an elevator, but it can be much simpler. Forced proximity creates conditions in which your characters have no choice but to spend time together. It's one of the most versatile ingredients in any genre and can be the foundation for any relationship you're writing.


What Is Forced Proximity?

Before we can talk about forced proximity in fiction, it makes sense to define it in real life.


In psychology, the proximity principle refers to the way we are more likely to form relationships with people we see and interact with on a regular basis. The more time we spend with someone, the stronger the connection. This is because we tend to be drawn to what is familiar to us, and because frequent interaction provides more chances to interact and form that bond.


That said, the frequency of interaction doesn't guarantee friendship. You might also find yourself growing increasingly aware of characteristics you don't like, and therefore the relationship becomes negative.


The key is that it's repeated interaction, not propinquity (being physically close to someone), that establishes these relationships.


Basically the more often we are around someone, the greater the chance that we form some relationship with them.


The proximity principle is why a lot of friendships and romances start out as being coworkers or classmates. Seeing someone nearly every day fosters that connection.


As far as fiction goes, there are countless ways the proximity principle can be woven into your characters' love lives. Whether it's their being in the same friend group, living in the same apartment complex, working at the same place, sharing a bus stop on their commute, or attending the same school, it creates a constancy in their dynamic that can lead to a connection. This services many tropes including slow-burn romances and enemies-to-lovers.


Some writers are especially eager to see their characters' relationships take off, so they implement what is called "forced proximity."


Forced Proximity In Fiction

Forced proximity can take the proximity principle to an extreme, putting characters in situations where forming a relationship of some kind is virtually inevitable. This can be simple like being paired up for an assignment at work or under dire circumstances like waiting out a blizzard at the same inn (where the aforementioned "There's only one bed" trope might come up).


While these may not be everyday examples, forced proximity can keep your characters running into each other.


Young adult novels with a high school setting might feature characters who are in the same class or extracurricular activity. Workplace romances might see flirtation by the water cooler while hiding their relationship from the boss. In a historical novel, they may see each other at the local assembly hall or be seated at dinner parties.


Forced proximity helps keep the plot moving by throwing your characters in each other's path.


Why Forced Proximity Works

Forced proximity is something you've likely seen in a few different ways. It's the starting point for many other tropes readers enjoy, from enemies-to-lovers to fake dating and marriages of convenience to office romances. It's a classic, and one that writers continue to find new ways to bend and adapt.


But forced proximity does more than set up these other premises.


Despite its name, having encounters between your love interests be part of their routine keeps the development of their relationship from feeling forced.


Instances where characters meet up by coincidence often enough to form a romance can sometimes feel shoehorned in if not too "convenient." Say their paths cross at the coffee shop one morning, the cinema the following night, the pharmacy the next afternoon. Unless it's a super small town, bumping into each other so often may not be as probable.


On the other hand, forced proximity adds a bit of predictability. Circling back to the coworkers example, they might have similar if not identical schedules. They know to expect each other, which might inspire them to dress up a little bit more or practice their hellos or flirtatious remarks on their commute.


Using forced proximity gives you the ability to speed things along, so to speak, while maintaining a sense of realism even in the more dramatic variations of the trope. Things are more gradual, as if often the case when getting to know someone in real life.

Forced proximity can bring a person's true colors to the surface. The more time you spend with someone, the more acquainted you become—and that becomes especially clear when your characters are stuck together. It's often in these instances like being locked in a broom closet together that characters engage in confessions of feelings and making amends. At that point, there's nothing that can stand in their way or provide what may be a hoped-for distraction.


It can also lead to times where characters must come to trust one another, or at the very least compromise and play nice in order to work through a problem.



Especially in romance, but in any genre, forced proximity has a habit of being the key to making relationships happen and evolve.


When I need to have a to-be couple take another step towards their Happily Ever After, I'll make use of forced proximity. This might mean having them attend the same party or be seated next to each other at dinner.


Forced proximity can be as dramatic as you want to make it, but more often than not, it's sweet and subtle, making it a flexible addition to any story.



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