On The Table Read, “The Best Book Reader Magazine in the UK“, author JJ Barnes describes how to use character friendship in your story, different kinds of friend character, and how to write them well.
Written by JJ Barnes
A character friendship can be used to develop and grow your story.
Most people have a friend. At least one. Someone they talk to and share their fears with, reflect on their options with. The same is true of your Protagonist. I’ll write about how to write a friendship that feels both real, and is also beneficial to your story.
What Do They Have In Common?
In order for a character friendship to feel believable, your characters have to have something in common. If there have no connection other than being conveniently placed to make your story move forwards, they won’t feel like a real friendship. You need your audience to believe your Protagonist will have conversations with that character that they need to have for the plot.
Whatever it is that brought them together will have bound them, even if the friendship turns out to be a toxic one ultimately.
Childhood Character Friendship Vs New Friendship
If they were childhood friends who have remained close, make sure your audience understands that. They’ll be different people to when they first met so the reason for the connection could be unclear. Talk about their relationship when they were little and how it has changed, but remained important. Two very different adults with different values and passions that remain close is a good source of conflict.
If your Protagonist and their friend met in adulthood, you’ll have a more recent and relevant reason for their connection, but it may be less stable. This character friendship will be based on their current similarities and interests, and will be more clear to the audience why they’re close. But, without the history keeping them together, it’ll be easier to break them.
To create a real conflict ridden opportunity, give your Protagonist one childhood friend and one new friend, and force them all to interact. A new friendship will be built on present day reasons, whereas a childhood friendship will be based on history. Both can have cracks and flaws, but they’ll be in different ways. It creates opportunities for all kinds of tension and pressure whilst still rooted in care for your Protagonist.
Differences Between Them
Whereas your Antagonist will challenge your Protagonist in hostile ways, the friends will challenge your Protagonist in a different way. But it’ll still be a challenge.
If your character friendship has no conflict and your friend character just agrees with everything your Protagonist says or does, there’s no point in them being in the story. It’ll be boring. Your Protagonist needs somebody to disagree, present different options, different opinions. Because they’re coming from a place of love it will be with your Protagonist’s best interests at heart, but it’ll still be conflict.
A character who just agrees blindly with everything will be like reading your Protagonist talking to a brick wall. So whilst they don’t have to fight them outright on everything, you need to keep the conflict active. They need to be the voice of reason if your Protagonist is being wild, or the voice of excitement if your Protagonist is too cautious.
A Character Friendship As A Sounding Board
A character alone with their thoughts will often read at a slow pace. Whilst internal conflict is interesting, if the entire story is just a person alone weighing up their options it’ll be boring. Your character friendship will function in your story to give your Protagonist somebody to speak to.
When they’re in conflict with the Antagonist the story will be moving forwards naturally as they try and outdo one another, there’s plenty of conflict and interest. Putting a friend character in place means the action keeps moving between key interactions with the Antagonist. If you have no action in your Protagonist’s down time your story will be slow and tedious.
A friend is where your Protagonist can explain their plans and ideas, weigh up options, talk about their fears or emotions. Talking into the air is unnatural, and when your story has no dialogue it feels slow. Your character friendship is where those ideas can be expressed and debated in a way that’s entertaining for the audience.
Good Friend Vs Toxic Friend
Your Protagonist needs to have conflict with their friend, or the conversation will be dull. However, there is a difference between conflict with a good friend and a toxic friend. And both are equally valuable and interesting to the progress of your plot, and the entertainment of your story.
Whether you choose to give your Protagonist either a good or toxic friend, or one of both, there’s things you need to consider.
The Good Friend
A good friend will disagree with your Protagonist out of love. They will want something positive to happen in their lives, and fear their pain. Even if their advice is wrong, you can be clear that they’re not wrong because of vindictive reasons.
For instance, if your Protagonist has two options, a risky one and a safe one. The good friend will push them towards safety. They fear that the Protagonist will end up in pain, and the risk is too great. Your Protagonist, however, will be learning towards with risk. There is conflict and conversation to be had, and disagreement to be worked through. Even though the risk is the right choice, no harm would befall them if they followed the friend’s advice. It would just yield less joy in the end.
When your Protagonist goes against the good friend’s advice, they shouldn’t be cruel about it. They shouldn’t mock failings, or belittle them for making mistakes. A good friend will respect your Protagonist’s right to make their own choices. Of course, it’s important to remember that nobody is perfect and a good friend might need an “I told you so” moment to keep it interesting and real. But ultimately, their response to the Protagonist will still be one of love and care.
The Toxic Friend
A toxic friend could give the same advice as a good friend, but it’ll come from a different motivation. A toxic friend will see the high risk option as a reason why the Protagonist will surpass them. Keeping the Protagonist in the status quo is what motivates your toxic friend.
If your Protagonist improves their own life, they’ll leave the toxic friend behind or accomplish something the toxic friend never could. Jealously and possessiveness are what push the toxic friend to advising caution, rather than care for their well being.
In the event of the Protagonist failing and suffering for their risks, rather than offering comfort and support, the toxic friend should mock. They point out that they were right and insist the Protagonist doesn’t try again. Any repeat efforts, and repeat failings, will only induce further resentments masquerading as care.
For your Protagonist’s character arc, they might come to recognise the damage the toxic friend is having on their ego and confidence. By shaking the toxic friend free, it is a step on the ladder to finally accomplishing their goal.
I Love To Write A Character Friendship
I don’t often write romance into my stories. There might be a relationship as part of the Protagonist’s arc, but it’s rarely the point of the story. However, I do love to write a good character friendship.
Lilly and Saffron in The Lilly Prospero Series are one of my favourite relationships I’ve ever created. There’s always conflict between them, and they’re very different people, but their bond is deep and the love between them is real. In Emerald Wren and The Coven Of Seven, the friendship between Emerald and her genie is what pushes the story forwards, more than any of the action happening around them.
I would always choose to have a character friendship as a core to any of my stories. I think friendships can be powerful and interesting, and are worthy of building a story from.
More From JJ Barnes:
I am an author, filmmaker, artist and youtuber, and I am the creator and editor of The Table Read.
You can find links to all my work and social media on my website: www.jjbarnes.co.uk
Buy my books: www.sirenstories.co.uk/books
Follow me on Twitter: @JudieannRose
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