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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