While the main character (or protagonist) of your story should be front and center, your secondary characters need attention, too. If you have a “best friend” in your story, have you fleshed out this role to its fullest?
A best friend can come in many shapes and forms, but always serves a purpose…often several purposes.
This best friend can go beyond the usual long-time pal from high school or college. This friend can be a boss, brother, comrade, coworker, sister, tennis partner, or wise elder such as an aunt, parent, or clergy member. The choice is yours.
Sometimes the kind of story you’re writing and even the tone of your story can determine the type of best friend to create. A romantic comedy might warrant a young, partying, obnoxious guy-friend or a gal-pal who blurts out what everyone’s thinking but not saying. Yet, a sweet knitting story about sisterhood might have a tender grandmother to lend an ear.
Are you bound by this? No. Go against type if you’d like. What could be more striking than an endearing grandmother with a mouth like a truck driver, juggling three boyfriends? It’s up to you. You decide.
The best friend can have a positive influence or a negative influence on the main character (herein called the MC). This best friend might act as cheerleader or sidekick, there to offer support. Or she might be a worry wart, begging the MC not to take a risk. Either way, she does what she does because she cares. This holds true for male best buds, as well.
So what functions can the best friend play in a story?
The best friend acts as a sounding board. This is someone the MC can really open up and talk to. This is the person your MC turns to for help in sorting out a dilemma or feelings for another before taking the next step. In Sleepless in Seattle, Annie’s bestie, Becky, is always there for her to listen and help Annie sort out her emotions and feelings about a man she’s never met.
A best friend helps move along the plot. She can provide information that the MC might need through the story in order to make decisions on what to do about a predicament. The best friend is there to ask, “What are you going to do now?” Usually the MC will make a decision to fight for what she wants or decide the steps to take in pursuit of a goal. And the best friend is there by her side to help.
When it comes to moving along the plot, does the best friend’s so-called help improve things? Maybe. Maybe not. Sometimes the friend’s helpfulness can make matters worse, putting the MC in a more precarious situation. Other times, the best friend’s actions can complicate the plot, forcing the MC to do exactly what she doesn’t want to do. For example, in Pride and Prejudice, the behavior of secondary characters forces Elizabeth to reexamine her perceptions about Mr. Darcy.
A best friend serves as a placeholder for the reader. If the MC proposes a theory or farfetched plan, the reader might think, “That’s outrageous!” So, too, can the best friend. The best friend can be skeptical, pointing out problems with the plan and asking further questions to draw out logical answers. This allows the MC to explain on the page the logistics of her plan to achieve a goal. Your MC does have a goal, right?
Points to consider when creating a best friend…
Keep your best friend consistent. If she tends to have a certain outlook on life, keep her that way. You can, however, still have glimmers of change shine through and maybe even a little bit of growth. In When Harry Met Sally, Sally’s bestie, Marie, obsesses over her love affair with a married man until meeting Harry’s best friend, Jess. She finally accepts that her married lover will never leave his wife. But Marie’s smooth demeanor, posture, and overall outlook and attitude about life remains consistent.
Keep the best friend in perspective. If you rely too heavily on this secondary character, then that person can take over the story. You find yourself giving the best friend all the spunk as well as all the great lines. You might end up liking that person more than the MC, especially if your MC is the straight man in your story. Always be clear who the MC is. Giving too much time to a secondary character like the best friend can blur those lines, causing confusion in the reader as to who she should be rooting for.
For example, in a romance, keep the relationship front and center. Sometimes it’s okay to have a hero or heroine of the story vent to a best friend, but it’s better to have the hero and heroine hash things out together. In a suspense, if you have a villain in your story, be sure your MC tangles with the villain mano-a-mano, rather than merely discussing the villain with a best friend.
Yes, the best friend can serve several roles in your story. A well thought out best friend with a definite purpose will help you avoid the cliché of a lackluster “typical BFF” who’s two dimensional and thrown into the story as mere afterthought.
Lastly, take a look at the people who populate your story world. Do you have lots of characters coming on and off stage in your scenes? Does each one provide only a little something different? Do any of their roles overlap, causing redundancy? If so, consider taking all those functions and giving them to the best friend. This will strengthen the role of the best friend and keep your writing tight.