Where would Nancy Drew be without George Fayne? Where would Huck Finn have wound up without Tom Sawyer? Scarlett may have derided her, but Melanie Wilkes was her best friend hook, line, sinker and soul. What about Elizabeth Bennett and Charlotte Lucas? Without Charlotte, Lizzy may just have wound up married to the horrible Mr Collins. Charlotte did her a solid by marrying the little worm. Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and even Hermione, were the best of ‘mates. And dear God, could we have had Sherlock Holmes without John Watson?
In my last post I talked about my friends and what having them in my life means to me. Literature is chock-full of besties and we are all better for having shared in their friendships, albeit second hand.
Friends in literature serve so many purposes aside from simply being “a friend.” They are foils for one another’s characters; sounding boards for ideas, problems, and resolutions; cheerleaders and soul soothers, and best of all, the true friend will always steer you in the right direction when you are going the wrong way, tell you if you have spinach in your teeth, and hold your hair back when you need to vomit. This last one is literally and theoretically!
My two favorite books of all time are Gone with The Wind and The Wizard of Oz. Both are rife with the beauty and detail of friendship. In both, the main characters of Dorothy and Scarlett need to find their way: home and in life. The TinMan, Cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow all help Dorothy face trials, tests, and tribulations in order to find her way back to Kansas, to Auntie Em’s loving care, and to discover her heart’s desire. Scarlett is Melanie’s opposite in every way, except in their love for Ashley, and in this opposition of character details, each woman brings out the best in the other. Despite what many historians have postulated, I really do think Scarlett’s road to redemption begins when she brings Melanie back to Tara after the birth of Beau. She risks her life to make sure they all get home safe and sound. Whether you believe it is for a selfish reason, such as ensuring Ashley knows Scarlett helped his wife, or – like me – because deep down Scarlett was truly a good and loyal person, their relationship ( Scarlett and Melanie’s) is the strongest and most enduring in the novel.
When a writer creates friends, he/she needs to know what each friend brings to the relationship table. It’s simply not enough to have the main character have friends. They serve purposes, both positive and negative, and these purposes enrich the novel and the character’s quest. They play off one another, spark ideas between them, and – such as in the case of Holmes and Watson – better the lives of the people surrounding them. Ron and Hermione show Harry Potter that people do care about him -not because he is a wizard – but because he is a person with feelings and desires, just like they are. Sharing triumphs, failures, tears, and joy are just some of the emotions friends go through together.
Think about your favorites books. What are the friend relationships like? Is the book made better because of them? What does each friend bring to the relationship table for the main character? When you write, think about these facets. Your book will be richer for it, and sound more true-to-life.