Friendships in Novels

When I was young, I was incredibly envious of Harry, Ron and Hermione. Sure, their friendships were not the most steady of things – they had their ups and downs, as all relationships do. But they were constant. Once they were friends, they were friends, even through the fights and breakups and awful things that happened to them.

It would be a lie to say I didn’t have friends at school – I did. But I wasn’t anyone’s best friend. I was the third one, always, and not as the third in a strong triad. That other person who hangs around with you, and is your friend, but not your best friend. I came away from childhood assuming that I was just not a person people wanted to be friends with.

When I got to university, much the same thing happened. Retrospectively, I realise that a lot of this was my perception, and not the reality. A lot of it was that I would often recoil from people and clam up, hiding my vulnerability from them and thus lessening the depth of my relationships. It wasn’t until the end of university and beyond that I started to make the friendships I would maintain. The ones that, now, I believe I will have for the rest of my life.

And that meant, in the very early stages of my writing – when I was writing terrible novels that would serve as practice and proof of concept – I didn’t know how to write friendships. I could write romantic relationships absolutely fine, and did. I just didn’t know how friendship worked.

So today I want to talk to you about three aspects of friendship I didn’t know how to write, and some books that really did get it right.

1. Friendships are not perfect

I’ve already mentioned that the Golden Trio had a lot of ups and downs. From Ron and Hermione arguing and Harry taking or not taking a side, to Ron abandoning them when they’re searching for Horcruxes. This becomes an integral part of the plot, the drama – the story. Try and imagine the books if the three of them had been totally fine with one another all the time. Weird, right?

Well, that is how I tried to write friendships when I first started. This is genuinely how I believed friendship was for ‘normal’ people. I thought you became friends, best friends, and that was it. I didn’t understand that it was possible to stick by someone through thick and thin whilst also falling out with them. In fact, I often found those parts of Harry Potter actively uncomfortable to read.

But no one likes anyone 100% of the time. Everyone’s frustrating at one time or another, and that’s normal – it doesn’t mean you don’t love them. Friendships aren’t all-or-nothing, and that’s something that I didn’t realise until…well, the past few years. Friendships take work to maintain, like any relationship. They’re reciprocal.

Showing complex relationships like that is both educational and, as Harry Potter demonstrates, super for adding complexity and curveballs to plot. So don’t be like younger!me. Remember that your characters are, from time to time, going to fall out with one another. And make sure they do.

2. People can only manage so many close friendships

Following on from the previous, it’s super tempting to have your main character be universally liked and friends with everyone, because they are so perfect! Or just because, like me, you fear conflict. But part of showing the whole breadth of friendships is showing that they’re not all best friendships.

It’s possible for your character to be liked by someone, and to like them back, without becoming their hero within a chapter. It’s wonderful to show that, to express that your ‘lesser’ friendships can be just as formative and valuable as your close ones. They’re just different. And, of course, you also get the bonus of more relationships to screw up. Right?!

In reality, you would have to maintain those friendships, and the likelihood is that your main character hasn’t got all that much time to be making sure they keep up with all their friends whilst also saving the world. And sure, stories don’t have to be all realism, all the time. But actually, adding a touch of realism can add depth to your world and your story.

So tempting as it might be – don’t make your main character(s) everything to everyone!

3. A lot of friendships end

At the time that I was writing those terrible stories I had ended friendships, of course. My general approach to friendships was to panic when people started to see ‘what I was really like’. I would quickly ghost out of that group of friends and find another. I did this through school, through university, and only stopped once I had started to learn that I might not, in fact, be a terrible person.

But because I’d never allowed people to get truly close to me, I had never experienced a ‘bad ending’ to a friendship. I’d never seen a good ending either – my way of leaving didn’t really include an ending at all. And friendships do end. They end in all sorts of different ways.

Including this in stories definitely enhances them. It can leave you feeling that a book has a proper ending. Think of any story where someone leaves at the end – in Lord of the Rings where Frodo goes West. Alternatively, it can obviously offer a degree of drama if some friends wholly break up.

The main benefit I see, though, is that it breaks away from the odd permanency that stories often end up with. This is especially the case in stories with a romance aspect. By the end of the novel everyone has finally gotten together, and that’s how it’s going to be forever. Right? But if you’ve shown things changing through the novel, that permanency isn’t assumed. Your ending is more open, whilst also feeling complete.

It makes your story so much stronger.

If you enjoyed this post and want to make sure I listened to my own advice, check out my debut novel Mundane Magic – available now in all major online bookshops!