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March 2, 2012 / Chersti Nieveen

8 tips on How to Write a Believable Friendship or Best Friend Character

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One of my biggest pet peeves in a book is the shallow friendships. Or how most female characters don’t have a true best friend. They prefer to go solo so they can spend most of the time with the love interest/representative hottie. But let’s face it: usually girls are social creatures and most of them have a best friend in their high schools years (and even throughout their lives).

Here are some common mistakes I see when writing in a best friend secondary character:

The protagonist has a long-term best friend and I DON’T SEE WHY THEY ARE FRIENDS. Furthermore, the protagonist often speculates on this and never comes up with a reason. How can I believe that there is a reason for this friendship to continue?

The “best friend” character is really just there for support. We need someone for the protagonist to tell their deep dark secrets and goals, and to have a good laugh, so supply Shallow Friend #1. Need another bestie? Add Shallow Friend #2. But what does the main character give back? Nothing – no commitment!

They use their friends based on what assets they provide: car, money, ect — and nothing more!

The friendship feels fake or forced.

So let’s look at two great friendships and why they work, using Harry Potter and Ugly Betty.

Friendship example #1: Harry Potter and Ron Weasley

Why does the friendship work? Harry and Ron not only have a lot of things in common (love quidditch, not super-dedicated students, usually dislike the same subjects, love quidditch, have same opinions on many magical matters such as muggles, love fast quidditch brooms), but they also have common experiences. They have history together. They share detentions and adventures, laughs and losts. They have their quarrels–moments where they even hate each other–but they stick by each other. They are loyal and honest, and share a lot of the same view on life. (Think: could Harry and Ron be as close of friends if Ron was big on the pureblood only thing?)

Friendship example #2: Amanda and Marc from Ugly Betty

While these two are both shallow, their friendship is not. They have common interests and views on life–both conspiring to humiliate Betty and sabotage her work. They both help each other out: Amanda pretends to be Marc’s girlfriend when his mother’s around to help him hide that he’s gay, and he takes personal risks to help protect her job from Wilhelmina. The two are often mischievous and have the same train of thought (while others around them might thing it is stupid), even placing a prank phone calls. I recommend going to youtube and watching the Mode After Hours webisodes to see a great friendship at work.

GROUND RULES OF HOW TO WRITE A BEST FRIEND:

1. Friendship is a two-way street. Show the reader how the protag can give just as much as he/she takes in the friendship. The secondary character should find themselves in a pinch so the protag can help them out–even if it’s just carrying their lame-o science fair project to the car or picking up their dry cleaning.

2. Give the bestie an outside life. What do they do when the protag isn’t around? What outside dreams and goals do they have that takes them outside the protags life? Make that life go on when the bestie character isn’t on the page.

3. Make sure your protag is reliable when it comes to the bestie. If they let the bestie down, that is grounds for a friendly fight.

4. Friendship is just as much about the downs as the ups. Friends fight–and life goes on. It’s okay for your besties to have a little argument or for one character to feel resentful of the other.

5. Make the friendship honest. Yeah, best friends really should lie to each other. But this is more than that. By fleshing out the best friend, you get more complexities in the relationship. And when that happens, you have a friendship that feels real and honest to the reader.

6. Give thoughtful advice/listen. While it’s great that the protag goes and talks to her bestie, she also needs to return the favor. Give at least one moment where the best friend can share the problems they face. Everyone has problems, and most of the time they don’t relate to what the main character is going through. Make it unique, like a teacher gave them extra homework because their cell rang in class, they failed a test, or they had a fight with their mom over loud music. This can also tie back to how the protag can give back to the friend.

7. SHARE SHARE SHARE. Girls love to switch out clothes, books, shoes, and other items. This is as easy as giving a mint during class, though some girls go further by sharing the same soda or lipstick.

8. Give them common interests. A great example of this is in Kiersten White’s PARANORMALCY with Lish and Evie. Evie is obsessed over this TV show, and Lish takes the time to watch it with her and they both talk about it afterwards.

Feel free to give your main character this friendship quiz to see how they rate: http://teenadvice.about.com/library/teenquiz/10/blgoodfriendquiz.htm

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12 Comments

  1. Shallee McArthur / Mar 2 2012 9:58 am

    Great post. I think this is something often overlooked in books. I read one recently where I felt the “best friend” was only there so the author could make a point. The friends didn’t seem all that friendly, and I couldn’t figure out why they were friends. It drove me nuts.

    I tried to make the best friends in my book actual friends. I’m trying to deepen the relationship in revisions, because I agree with you– friendship is hugely important!

  2. Gaylene Wilson / Mar 2 2012 10:27 am

    So true. And it does seem to be lacking in lots of books today. That was definitely something I loved about Harry Potter. Maybe someday I can get it right in my own stories. Thanks for the list!

    • Chersti Nieveen / Mar 5 2012 8:55 am

      I think Harry Potter is one of the best examples. I mean, the characters even get mad at each other and don’t speak for whole chapters (sometimes half a book). Ron even has such a huge problem that it’s almost always about Harry, which you never see in many other books. It’s like they’ve all accepted their secondary role and they’re okay with it.

  3. Nikki / Mar 2 2012 12:37 pm

    Ooh, great thoughts. Thanks! I think my main characters are in good shape with the give-and-take, but I can think of one minor character I need to check on now. I’ll be referencing this again! 🙂

    • Chersti Nieveen / Mar 5 2012 8:54 am

      I agree — I think your characters are all GREAT examples of friends. There is so much give and take, which is perfect since your story is ALL about that friendship. LOVE IT! I’m curious which minor character now…

  4. Kimberly Hawks / Mar 2 2012 4:31 pm

    I so agree!! Before I got to your examples I was actually thinking about this new show on ABC Family called Jane By Design…I love the writing in it because its honest, real-life, and witty. But the main character has this best guy friend ,who everyone would think by just hearing that, that there must be some must be some sort of romantic connection. But there’s not because they have a history, a connection, they are there for each other though they can get on each other’s nerves and in just their first season this show has been able to establish this friendship and really develop the characters so you can see a lot of the criteria you mentioned.

  5. Jeyna Grace / Mar 2 2012 8:52 pm

    Nice! Will remember those tips for future reference.

  6. Flo Bertsch / Mar 2 2012 11:38 pm

    Thanks for the post on friendship/ best friend. Just in time, I am writing a short story about making friends at a new school. I now have some guidelines to steer me in the right direction.

  7. Chersti Nieveen / Mar 5 2012 8:53 am

    Kimberly: Oh that sounds fantastic! I’m going to have to check that show out now. Thanks!

    Flo: I’m so glad this helped!

  8. Tiffany / Mar 7 2012 1:30 pm

    I’ve never really paid much attention to this, actually. I guess I tend to be attracted to the books where the main character is loner by nature, and isn’t a loner so she can spend lots of time with the love interest. But anyways–another couple of good friendships? Anne and Diana from “Anne of Green Gables” or Kate and Cecilia from “Sorcery & Cecilia” by Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer (if you haven’t read this series, you should. The first book is the best but I did enjoy all three. Also, Wrede recently came out with a new series–the first one is “Thirteenth Child” that is really fun as well. I don’t remember if there’s a good friendship in it, I’m leaning towards yes, but really I just brought it up ’cause mentioning “Sorcery & Cecilia” reminded me. This tangent brought to you by a boring grad school class. :D)

  9. S dot Love / Mar 28 2014 7:37 am

    Reblogged this on Ramblings|On|The|Wall and commented:
    So glad I found this. Definitely helped me a lot with this whole novel writing thing. 🙂

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