Will They or Won’t They?

Relationships have been the fodder of human curiosity since the birth of storytelling. But what really intrigues me are all those couples that make you wonder: Will they or won’t they?

by Jamie Campbell

We all know the story of romantic liaisons – boy meets girl, boy falls for girl, they get together, break up, and invariably find their way back to each other. We know how it ends and yet we sit on the edge of our seats until we’re completely sure and can be certain of the happily ever after. But not always.

To me, the most cheer-worthy relationships are the ones where we have no idea where the characters are going to take us. The Will they / Won’t they relationship has been used in nearly every television series produced but it never gets old. There are always too many variables to be certain of the happily ever after.

We know how it ends and yet we sit on the edge of our seats.

One of my favourite television series is Andrew Marlowe’s Castle. With the new season hitting our screens after the cliff hanger of Will they / Won’t they finally being answered, I’m curious to see whether it will be ruined, or whether it just got a whole lot more interesting.

Marlowe managed to string out the question for an impressive four seasons with the title characters of writer Richard Castle and his muse Detective Kate Beckett finally submitting to their sexual tension in the final few minutes of the finale. Fans rejoiced, but what happens now?

The Will they / Won’t they can be difficult to pull off. As writers, we want our characters to have everything they desire but yet we have to be sadistic control freaks and refuse them everything. Although, I prefer to think of it as just delaying what they want. Relationships are just another want.

The boy wants the girl, the girl wants the boy but there are obstacles in the way. One of them is married, one has emotional problems, they irritate each other, it’s against company policy, the list goes on. We must find numerous reasons why these two can’t be together and we must make it compelling. All the while providing enough relationship fodder to keep the viewer happy and yearning for more. A simple brush of the arm, an inside joke, a meaningful look, anything to show there is that tension bubbling away under the skin.

It also has to be believable. I’m not going to buy into and get emotionally attached to a story that makes no sense (a la Buffy and Spike in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, what the hell?). I want a reason why these two people need to be together and I want a good excuse why they can’t.

We must find numerous reasons why these two can’t be together.

To me, one of the greatest examples of Will they / Won’t they was The X-Files. Who didn’t want Agents Mulder and Scully to finally admit their feelings? They were opposites, they barely tolerated each other at times, yet we knew there was something there and we wanted so badly for them to forget the conspiracy and admit it.

But then it happened. While they weren’t exactly the most passionate couple on earth, there were enough lovey-dovey gazes to completely ruin everything. Without the tension, there was nothing left but the aliens (albeit good aliens, but it still lacked something major). The X-Files was never the same again.

The decision of when to finally answer the question is a tricky one. If you do it too soon, then it can ruin everything. Do it too late, and the viewer is tired and frustrated with it all. Do it even later and you run out of time and lose your chance. The timing and execution has to be
perfect and, most important of all, true to the characters.

I believe Bones pulled off a good conclusion to the Will they / Won’t they. Main characters Booth and Brennan had us asking the question from the beginning. They had everything The X-Files did – opposites, opposing viewpoints, emotionally stunted, and a close working relationship. It could have all gone terribly wrong.

So they almost answered it and then didn’t. When they finally did, we as the viewers were ready for it. And, even better, it didn’t ruin the show. A baby later and they are still creating compelling situations to keep us cheering for them. They have managed to keep the relationship interesting without it being the central focus.

Of course, you don’t have to answer the question positively. Sometimes, they just won’t end up together. Take Law & Order: SVU for example. The main characters Benson and Stabler had all the elements, with the huge obstacle of one being married with a bunch of kids. They had tension, they had chemistry, they cared for each other. Yet nothing happened. And we were actually happy about that. It would have been out of character for them to give in to temptation and we all knew it.

So, now Castle has answered the question, I am glued to the screen to see what happens next. I’ve waited four seasons for this and yet dreaded it at the same time. My greatest hope is that they will stay true to the characters, it’s all we can ever do as writers.

-Jamie Campbell


Jamie Campbell is an author, screenwriter, and television addict.

Jamie is proud to be an Editor for The Story Department.

Her latest spine-tingling thriller Gifted is out now.

Photo Credits: Stock XChng, TV.Com, Jamie Campbell

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