The majority of fiction writers out there have had their fair share of friendships, so why is it that some of the fictional friendships they write seem so unrealistic. I’ve read a great deal of friendships, both good and bad, and have narrowed down what separates them.
How do you write good friendships? To write a friendship that your readers will connect with, you must do the following things:
- Understand the dynamic of the friendship
- Understand the character traits of all characters involved
- Understand the friendship’s history
All three things listed above are obviously not the easiest of tasks. You might be wondering how exactly you’re meant to complete each one. If you’re looking for a deeper explanation, read on.
How Does This Friendship Function?
Relationships are interesting, because although we’d like to believe that anybody could be friends, people just don’t work that way. Regardless of how likable your characters are individually, there’s no reason for them to be friends if they’re incompatible.
Establishing the following things will help you create a dynamic that works between two or more friends in your story:
What do they do together?
Characters with nothing to do together won’t last as friends for very long. You need to give your characters something to bond over, whether it be watching movies, playing a sport, or anything else they both enjoy.
I can’t count how many relationships I’ve read that feature one introverted “nerd” and one extroverted “party-animal”. What do they do together? Usually talk about the extrovert’s escapades and how the introvert could never take part in such festivities.
Although this juxtaposed friendship can often lend a lot of humor, we know deep down that it would never work in the real world, especially if it started and ended there.
It’s especially important in female relationships to make sure that their sole bonding activity does not revolve boy-talk. It’s perfectly fine if both characters are boy-crazy, but your friendships shouldn’t revolve around your characters talking about other people, and it also results in a bad representation of women.
What Do Both Characters Get Out Of It?
This question may come across as sort of twisted, but I promise it’s not. Think of your relationship with your best friend. What do you get out of it? Do they understand your mind like nobody else? Do they make you laugh?
This is questions points toward the subconscious gratification your characters get from being friends with one another. They might not even think of or state it themselves, but you as the writer should establish it in planning.
What if your best friend didn’t offer you anything? Didn’t better your life in any way? Both your main character and their friend(s) should feel fulfilled in some way by their friendship. Give them both reasons to stick around.
Who Are They To Each Other?
We have to take each character’s individual perception into consideration when answering this question, because the answer goes a lot further than the word “friend”.
How do your characters see each other? It’s important to understand that even best friends have versions of each other in their heads that aren’t completely accurate. This is because having to same frame of perception as someone else is simply impossible.
Keeping this in mind will not only make your characters’ friendship more realistic, but more complex. Your main character’s friend shouldn’t be an extension of your main character; they should be their own person that sees your main character in their own way.
Similarly, it’s important to establish what kind of friendship it actually is. Are they each other’s only friend? Does one person in the friendship have less additional friends than the other? These are both things that can drastically change attributes of their friendship, such as how often they hang out or what they expect from one another.
The Importance Of Individuality
Going along with the mention of perspective, I want to touch on the importance of thorough development for every character involved in your friendship.
Although it’s perfectly understandable for friends to have differences, you want to make sure their differences don’t make them completely incompatible. For example, having one friend that’s an introvert and another that’s an extrovert is usually okay, as long as they both meet somewhere in the middle for each other.
Having one friend who despises drugs and another who’s a drug dealer might not work quite as well.
There are exceptions to this of course, such as when the conflict between these polar-opposites is the plot or sub-plot of the story. It may also lead to a really interesting or funny friend dynamic. However, if the tension isn’t acknowledged or challenged in anyway, the friendship loses its charm or believability.
Strengths And Weaknesses
Knowing each friend’s strengths and weaknesses is the easiest way to understand how they behave with each other within their friendship. If your main character’s flaw is that they’re always late and unreliable as a result, this could play a negative role in their friendship.
On the other hand, maybe their friend’s strength is that they’re super understanding, so they know your character means no harm by being tardy.
You want your characters’ flaws and strengths to blend and clash in a way that supports the path their friendship takes throughout your story. If their friendship is meant to face no problems, they should balance each other out in the best way possible, strengths making up for each other’s weaknesses.
Where It All Began
For friendships that originate before the start of your novel, it’s important to understand the unwritten timeline that took place before the current story.
How Long Have They Been Friends?
This question is especially important to consider when writing childhood friends, because if you’re writing a story in which the characters are now older or adults, they’ve clearly changed a lot since meeting.
If this is the case, your friends have either grown closer or farther apart over time, and that is definitely a key factor to know.
How long your characters have been friends also affects how well they’re able to know one another, and how well they actually know each other says a lot about how strong their friendship really is.
For example, childhood best friends have the potential to know almost everything about one another. It says a lot if your main character feels as if they no longer know their best friend very well. Tension like this is actually very common in long-term friendships, so including it makes for realistic drama.
If your characters haven’t been friends for long, or meet within the parameters of your story, make sure the rate at which their friendship progresses makes sense. This varies from character to character, but the average person wouldn’t trust a person with their life right after meeting them.
Why Did This Friendship Begin?
It also helps to understand why your characters started being friends in the first place. This falls back on what I mentioned about each friend getting something out of the friendship, but dives into the conscience thoughts of your characters.
- What place or situation originally drew these characters together?
- What did each character see in the other that they liked?
Questions like these are crucial, because their answers set up the events that follow on their friendship’s timeline.
If lots of time has passed, you also need to decide why they’re still friends, if the reason they initially became friends was due to an outside element or third party. These may include their mothers setting up playdates or having been on the same sports team. Is that outside element or third party still present? If not, they need something else that keeps them together.
Examples of Great Friendships In Fiction
- Sherlock Holmes and John Watson – The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
- Harry, Ron, and Hermione – The Harry Potter Series by Jk Rowling
- Sam and Patrick – The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
All these characters have distinct personalities from one another, balance each other out in their respective friendships, and have things that they bond over, giving substance and reasoning to their relationships.
How do I write a friends-to-lovers plotline?
Pacing means everything when it comes to arcs like this. This can be a great trope to utilized if done correctly, and the best way to write it is with lots of tension and a gradual build. It’d be awkward at first!
How do I write a friends-to-enemies plotline?
The most important attribute to this sort of story is having a reason strong enough to break two friends apart. The reader needs to believe that despite their history, these characters would throw away their entire friendship because of it .
How do I write an enemies-to-friends plotline?
Whereas the friends-to-enemies trope usually requires one big event to occur, enemies turning into friends has more in common with the friends-to-lovers plotline. An enemies-to-friends plotline cannot be rushed, because that wouldn’t be realistic. It would take time for two enemies to truly trust each other.