F is for Friends

Artwork by Tom Torre (@CopernicusNerd)

Artwork by Tom Torre (@CopernicusNerd)

By Jennie Goloboy


Please, authors, please–don’t write about characters who have no friends at all. Chapter one will work. It will be deep inside the character’s head, and the reader will meet the character and sympathize with his sad and lonely situation.

And then your novel will hit the wall, and it will hit it hard, because characters can only grow and change through their interaction with other characters. And these other characters have to have individual motives, dreams, and goals of their own. If everyone else in the story is a flat, undifferentiated evil meat puppet except for the beleaguered, ultrasensitive hero, it will be impossible to sustain reader interest for a novel-length manuscript.

Writing a character with no friends is kind of like writing a novel that begins with the hero waking up, urinating, drinking coffee, brushing his teeth, and staring into the depths of his closet, considering what to wear. Most authors need to write their way into the novel, figuring out the hero’s world by adding details that seem to work. A favorite pocketwatch the hero always wears. A best buddy who’s always chewing on a toothpick. And then the author has to go back and make the evidence of his writing process disappear.

Give your hero some friends, please. Even if they’re all shallow, manipulative jerks–that in itself will say something about him.

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  1. danielbensen on November 7, 2013 at 6:06 am

    I read (and then quickly stopped reading) a book with exactly that problem. Every character except the protagonist and her love interest was a meat puppet put on earth only to annoy or obstruct the protagonist. In a close-third-person story, that just makes me think the protagonist is a selfish social idiot who can’t grasp that other people have their own motivations.

    And on the other hand, my favorite books are full of 3D characters who could be (and in their own minds, I’m sure ARE) the protagonists of their own stories.