Deb Erika Knows that You Gotta Have Friends

Erika MarksThis week on the Ball we’re talking Friends. Yesterday Deb Joanne rounded up some of her favorite imaginary friends so today I thought I’d share my thoughts on writing friends in our novels.

(Hint: It’s not as easy as it seems.)

But it should be! I mean, we all know how to be a friend, right? We all know why we have the friends we do and what we love about them.

But writing a friend—especially a BEST friend—for your lead character can be oh-so tricky.

For starters, don’t even think of the word “sidekick.” You don’t want your BFF to be a cardboard wing man/woman, only there to make your lead look funnier, sexier, prettier, richer, you get my drift. Your BFF should have her own well-rounded life, her own quirks, her own wants and needs.

BUT! That said, you don’t want your character’s BFF to be so much fun that your reader would sooner spend the story with her than your main character. (Writers: how many times has this happened to you? You write a BFF only to find she’s much more interesting than your lead? Whoops.)

So what makes a good pair of friends on paper (er, or e-book)?

When I write in a friend for a character, I think the key is balance. Like romantic partners, good friends should balance each other. Just look at Anne Shirley and Diana Barry: There’s no question that the two “bosom friends” liked many of the same things (and fellas: We’re lookin’—and swoonin’—at you, Gilbert Blythe!) but their differences were clear and yet, they balanced one another. Diana was not nearly as daring and outspoken as Anne (who could be?!) but her often shy and tentative demeanor made her Anne’s perfect mate.

Or who can forget Cee Cee Bloom and Bertie Barron, the polar opposite besties in Iris Rainer Dart’s tear-jerking Beaches? Night and day don’t even begin to describe these two women and yet their friendships preserves through crushing life challenges.

And of course, no post of mine on BFFs would be complete without a toast to Miles and Jack from Sideways. Miles is as wound up and nervous as Jack is carefree and reckless; but as different as they are, they combine to make for a very believable pair of friends. And when it comes right down to it, the most important rule of writing best friends is to make them believable, and show how they connect, conflict after conflict, page after page.

So who are some of your favorite literary besties?

14 Replies to “Deb Erika Knows that You Gotta Have Friends”

  1. I have to give a shout-out to my literary pals, best friends Trixie Belden and Honey Wheeler, from the Trixie Belden mysteries. Trixie was the more adventurous one, always getting into trouble and dragging the gentler Honey with her. Growing up, I always wanted to be a Trixie, but I was probably more of a Honey.

    1. Trixie and Honey, of course! Where would we be as growing girls without our literary young ladies, getting in to all the kinds of trouble we never did. Well, sort of. 😉

  2. This is a great post — and you gave me some good ideas for my current WIP, so I thank you. Not sure what this means, but often I’m drawn to creating characters who are loners or socially awkward. Still, as you say, a BFF or friend of some kind is always good for a well rounded life (if they do in fact have a well rounded life…haha).

    1. Hi Julia! So glad it gave you some food for thought. I’m with you on the loner characters–sometimes it feels forced to me that have that best friend character, but then I discover that giving my character a friend is a great way to help me (and of course the reader!) to understand who she is and her layers.

  3. You’re so right, Erika – it is all about balance. And using the best friend as a mirror is a great way to work characters off each other and elevate your main character without it coming off wooden and contrived. Diana was a great rock to Anne’s impetuous fancy and sometimes even managed to keep Anne on the straight and narrow (though many times not). They worked great together as characters AND as friends.

    1. Joanne, should we just rename this blog the Debutante Ball with an E? Seriously, I can’t help myself from making Anne references–mostly, it’s just an excuse to find myself swirling gleefully down the internet rabbit hole of AOGG youtube clips 😉

  4. I write a lot about friendships and the balance I try to strike is showing how friends are different – yet the same – what links them is important, whether it’s just proximity or history or a shared goal. But being friends with someone who is different is the most interesting in real life, so I think that’s what is most interesting in books. In my novel I picture the main characters best friends as the angel and devil on her shoulders — although that doesn’t turn out to be the case, that’s what helped me write them and the way they reacted, treated people, etc.

    1. Hi Deb Amy! I love the explanation here–thanks for sharing your take on this. Like you say, it’s deciding what it is that links them as friends, that ties them to one another, and that can be a lot of things. I know I can’t wait to get to know your friends in THE GLASS WIVES!

  5. Just the mention of Beaches gets me all sniffly! But I confess I’ve never read the book. Not sure if I could handle it. 🙂

    1. Molly, I bawled at the book AND the movie but people I’ve talked to over the years seem much more attached the movie than the book. But come on, Bette Midler was BORN to be Cee Cee Bloom!

  6. Great Beaches reference Erika.. I still own (and love) the book, even if there was no Wind Beneath My Wings back then.

    I especially like what you say about the BFF being a real well-rounded person rather than just a sidekick. In fact, this post reminds me of The Bechdel Test for movies. It’s a way to assess films based on their treatment of women and their relationships. Have you heard of it? “The Bechdel Test…is a simple test which names the following three criteria: (1) it has to have at least two women in it, who (2) who talk to each other, about (3) something besides a man. ” It’s amazing how few films fail those criteria because so often women just talk about men… I think books would pass more often, but it would be interesting to investigate…

Comments are closed.