Character Tropes: The Best Friend
The vast majority of YA novels will have a character that fills the role of “the best friend.” In fact, I feel that it’s probably fairly safe to say that the majority of books, movies, and TV shows in general will have a “best friend/sidekick” character. You need someone in that role so that your main character has someone on their side to talk to, count on for support, or to play the voice of reason.
Here’s a couple of examples of good best friends off the top of my head:
Stiles from the TV show Teen Wolf – The main character, Scott, would be lost without his best friend Stiles. And Stiles value as a character is obvious right from the pilot episode. Stiles is actually the instigating force for the whole show, since Scott would never have been out in the woods that night to get bitten if Stiles hadn’t talked him into it. But when the law shows up, Stiles is there to cause a distraction and draw attention away from Scott. He is supportive of Scott’s longing for Allison while being realistic about the problems of going after the new girl who has already drawn the attention of the popular kids. And when he realizes something weird is going on, Stiles voluntarily stays up all night researching the issue and comes prepared to lock his friend up for his own good. Even when Scott turns on him, he realizes it’s the werewolf influence and seeks help for his friend.
Another fabulous example of a trustworthy best friend is Lesley from the Ruby Red trilogy by Kerstin Gier. Gwyneth, the main character, trusts her implicitly. “Although Lady Arista had repeatedly told us that under no circumstances were we ever to tell any outsider what was special about our family, I’d decided to ignore the ban when it came to Lesley. After all, she was my very best friend, and best friends don’t have secrets from each other.” (Ruby Red, pg. 12) And due to the fact that Lesley is in the loop, when Gwen’s life suddenly veers out of control Gwen has someone outside of the craziness that she can count on and turn to for advice and help. Sure, they talk about boys, and fashion, and shopping, but they also talk about other things as well, and are very protective of one another. It’s a wonderful relationship, and Lesley does a lot to help keep things moving in ways both big and small.
Let’s say that your main character is facing a difficult decision and is torn about what to do. There has to be some kind of weighing of options and looking at pros and cons. If they are by themselves, this can lead to passive scenes where your main character is simply sitting in the corner thinking and arguing themselves into a standstill — which a) is obviously going to slow down the pace of your novel, and b) might bore some of your less introspective readers. But, if you add in another character, like say, a best friend, there can be an actual discussion, making it an active scene with dialogue and opportunities for teasing or emotional growth. It also gives your character an outside perspective, which whether they agree with what their friend says or not, gives them a believable impetus to break the internal stalemate and actually make the decision.
And that’s just the most basic function of the best friend. When the best friend character is done properly, they will do so much more than just be someone for the main character to vent to. They are the loyal support, someone for the main character to count on. They are often a balancing force for the main character – they can add a sense of humor and the perfect joke to lighten a dark moment, or be the voice of reason when things are going too far. They can keep the story moving by adding that last needed push into trouble or pull it back on-track with a timely rescue. Often, they will become fan favorites, leaving readers clamoring for their story next… In short, a well done best friend gives you options as a writer, and that can be vital.
Some of you will be saying, but what about the love interest? Shouldn’t they be the balancing force for the main character, and their true best friend? And you have a point. After all, friends to lovers is a much beloved romance trope for a reason. However, your main character needs to have someone in their life besides the love interest. You don’t want your characters living in a vacuum, and what happens when the relationship has problems? (Remember, this is a romance we are talking about, so the relationship will have problems… no problems equals no story which equals no book.) Who will the main character turn to? Who’s going to go buy the ice cream and crappy movies or drag them out for drinks or threaten to beat up the person who hurt them? If your main character is falling in love with their best friend, then they are going to have to make new friends to talk to (or turn to a family member or another member of the group or something). Friends matter. And best friends matter even more.
So, now that I’ve hopefully convinced you of the importance of including a best friend, how do you create one that works for your needs? First, take a look at your main character and try to figure out what they are missing. Then look at your love interest and how they fit together. When you put them together, is their relationship filled with drama, angst, yearning, pining, etc? Then maybe you need a best friend that is fun and quirky who can be counted on to bring in the moments of humor and lighten things up. Or maybe the main relationship is wild and crazy, with two love interests who are up for anything and have a tendency to let things spiral out of control. If so, then you probably need a best friend who is fairly steady and reserved who can act as a voice of reason and a reminder that there is more to life than just falling in love. And if your main relationship is one of those opposites attract type of things with a lot of push/pull between them, then your best friend should be someone who can act as a tie-breaker and steer things the way you want them to go.