Tag Archives: West Side Story

Birds of a Feather: Your Characters & Their Friends

It’s worth noting who your characters “hang out” with. One of my favorite sayings, and I’ll paraphrase, goes something like this: You are who you attract.

Your protagonist’s choice of buddies can—surprise!—aid in the characterization process.

Friends
Merelize → in People

Some questions to consider when creating your character’s “Bestie”:

  1. Is the friend a secondary character? If so, how should he or she be developed throughout the story?
  2. Does the story have more than one main character, and are the characters friends? In other words, is the friendship the focus of the story?
  3. Is the friendship already established at the beginning, or do the characters meet sometime during the course of the story?
  4. What purpose does the friend serve? A helpful hand? Comic relief? Is he/she a drinking buddy? Partner in crime?
  5. Here’s the big one: What’s the dynamic like? Do the two (or more) personalities mesh well? Is a realistic pairing? Do they connect on some level? A hardened biker and a self-involved metrosexual can be friends…so long as there is some common ground. It’s the writer’s job to make it work.

Here are some common story friendship dynamics that you can bend, blend, and harmonize:

1. The Colorful Sidekick:  The goof off. The king’s fool. Think Kimmy Gibbler from Full House. This is a friend who adds some ‘flavor.’ He is audacious, brazen, comical, and flamboyant.

Important: Never underestimate the colorful sidekick. I’ve found in my own writing as well as the writing of others, that despite the personal flaws, these types often prove to be extraordinary friends in the end.

Favorite literary example: Dominick Birdsey’s cheeky, foolhardy friend Leo Blood from Wally Lamb’s I know this Much is True.

 2. The Charismatic Crony: Your character both loves and hates her. Best friends, yes, but in most cases, the charismatic crony comes out on top. This is the prettier friend, the skinnier friend, the smarter friend, the more popular friend, etc. We all know the type. And we’re all jealous.

Important: It is possible for this friend to be innocent—she may not be fully aware of her prowess. In other cases, however, she is simply one backbiting buddy.

Favorite literary example: I have two. Gene Forrester’s larger-than-life friend Phineas from John Knowles’s A Separate Peace; Rachel’s alluring childhood chum Darcy from Emily Giffin’s Something Borrowed.

3. The Caring Cohort: Quite simply, this is the friend who picks up your character when he or she falls. In fact, in some cases, this is the friend who sacrifices. Donates a kidney. Kills another. Gives up his own pleasure…all in the name of his friend.

Important: Any “friend” type that I’ve described here can lend a helping hand. The caring cohort goes a bit further.

Favorite literary example: George, who cares for mentally-handicapped Lennie Small during the Great Depression in John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. (See my most recent “Old School Sunday” post). Also, although this isn’t literature, in West Side Story Tony kills the love of his life’s brother for stabbing his friend, Riff, to death. Now that’s the kind of friend I’m talking about here. Not to mention good old Romeo, who slain Juliet’s cousin, Tybalt for slaughtering his own friend, Mercutio.

4. The Best Friend: They say if you fall down, a good friend will help you up; your best friend will laugh at you. It’s true in life and it’s true in fiction. These are two characters who are practically one. Often, they will go through various life changes, and may struggle with their relationship; but in the end, they usually find their way back to each other.

Important: Generally speaking, this kind of friendship will require two main characters. They will have separate lives, but be forever tied to one another. Often the foundation of the story is the friendship itself.

Favorite literary example: Kate and Tully, whose lives (both separately and together) go through many transitions, and face many obstacles in Kristin Hannah’s Firefly Lane. Actually, the book reminded me a lot of the movie Beaches, starring Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey.

I’d like to leave you with some links from Writer’s Digest, particularly if your protagonist’s friend falls within the ‘minor character’ category:

What is a Minor Character: Understanding the Minor Characters’ Role

Questions to Ask (& Strengthen) Your Minor Characters

What are you favorite friendship dynamics in literature? Film?Television? How do your characters relate to each other? Can’t wait for the comments!

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

17 Comments

Filed under Characters, Plot & Structure, Prompts & Writing Ideas, The Writing Life, Writing Process, Writing Tips

Love Connection: Writing about romantic relationships in fiction

For centuries the world’s great stories have been built on romance. Petrarch wrote love poems for Laura. Romeo and Juliet defied and sacrificed to be together. Hell, the Greek Gods swapped partners more often than the cast of Beverly Hills 90210. Today’s realm of pop culture isn’t much different: Rachel and Ross’s dalliances kept us engaged through ten seasons. We swooned when, after years of torment, Mr. Big flew to Paris to claim his Carrie Bradshaw. And the movies? Forget it. Even the action hero has a love interest.

So we like falling in love. We like watching others fall in love. As bookish types, we like reading about love. And (drumroll, please) us scribes? We dig writing about love.

Rachael Towne → in Textures

It’s no big mystery. Writing about romantic relationships evokes feelings of our own. It can actually be a vicarious experience.When two of my protagonists hit it off, I get tingly inside; I ache, I yearn.  I know it’s serious when I find myself fantasizing about my own characters (don’t tell anyone). But that’s the effect it has. Writers are the luckiest people in the world: we get to fall in love over and over again.

Like most elements of fiction writing, the Love Connection can be a tricky endeavor. In romance novels there is often a formula to follow. From what I understand, at the end, despite all obstacles, the couple lives happily ever after. But perfecting the art of dangerous liaisons is not the sole job of the romance writer.  I consider my work ‘literary with a commercial bent,’ and regardless of genre, the passion needs to sizzle.

It’s all about pacing; the Love Connection must begin, develop, and (perhaps) end, at an optimal speed.

Here’s a quick guide to the process:

The Initial Meeting:

Whether its new love, old love, or love turned sour, every fictional couple should have a story. I listened to a webinar recently where speaker, Jerry B. Jenkins, discussed ‘situational clichés.’ He used the example of two characters literally “bumping into each other.” He suggested ‘finding more creative ways for characters to meet.’ Concerning the Love Connection, this is absolute truth. Tony and Maria from West Side Story also come to mind: two strangers lock eyes across the room, the backdrop becomes blurry, the sounds fade out…ick. It worked for the Jets and the Sharks, but for your novel, you may want to take Jenkins’s advice. There are countless ways to demonstrate the Love Connection. Go for something that’s never been done before.

The Exchange:

A few years ago I attempted to write a novel about two twenty-somethings who meet and fall in love. There were countless issues concerning the writing (i.e. zero backstory, vague setting, etc.) but one element I did nail was the exchange between my characters, Eddie and Ellie. My writing group loved the flirtatious banter, the suggestive gestures, and the obvious sexual tension. I was starting to think that they were falling in love with Eddie and Ellie as much as Eddie and Ellie were falling for each other. But after several weeks they started asking questions like, “When are they going to kiss? Have sex? Touch each other?” Then it hit me: I wasn’t going beyond the exchange. If they kiss, then they reach a new level. And I was lost at how to handle that.

The Outcome:

Just as in life, the literary romance will take some tumbles. The world that looked so shiny and new has returned to its regular dull hues, and now the sands of time are being tested. This is the hard part. But it’s also the most important part. It’s the bonding, the reckoning, and the agonizing. I feared for Eddie and Ellie in this stage. Would they make it? Lose their spark? I kept the witty repartee rolling because I didn’t want to find out. Hence, I never finished the novel.

Literary love comes in all shapes and sizes. Some are ongoing, some are ending, some are unrequited, and yet others are inevitable. Capturing love the right way can do wonders for your book. It can encourage someone to take to take the plunge, get engaged, or leave an unhappy marriage. But one thing I know for sure? As long as we live, read, and write, we most certainly will love.

Do your characters fall in love? Tell me about it.

26 Comments

Filed under Characters, Plot & Structure, Writing Details, Writing Process, Writing Tips