Q&A

How Do I Create a Platonic Friendship Between Characters?

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Dear Mythcreants,

On screen or in books, I noticed that fully developed friendships are depicted more commonly than developing friendships. As a result, I realized that I’m sorely lacking in good examples to learn from.

For the series I’m plotting, my character has to travel to different worlds to look for her missing sister (and along the way uncover clues to bigger world mysteries). You can also say it’s about an introvert forming unexpected friendships across different worlds.

What are some tips to building strong, platonic friendships naturally? Also, what are some tips to turn not-actually-bad-antagonists-but-it’s-the-circumstances characters into friends as well?

Thank you for your time and don’t forget to wash your hands

-Cece

Hi Cece,

The secret is that friendship arcs and romance arcs are pretty much identical. There are only two differences:

This means you can take any article we have on romance and use it for your friendships. In particular, I recommend my post on relationship dynamics. For inspiration on platonic relationship arcs in particular, watch some buddy cop stories like Hot Fuzz.

Befriending a former antagonist is pretty similar, but with a few pitfalls added in. You don’t want your antagonist to have done anything too upsetting, and if they did something hurtful, even if they did it under intense pressure, they should show some remorse and dedicate themself to doing better. Avoid bad behavior that could hit too close to home like abuse or bigotry. I have an article on redemption arcs, if that might be helpful.

Happy writing while you stay inside! (If you can stay inside.)

Chris

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Comments

  1. Dave L

    Depending on how serious your story is, having two (or more) people face adversity together can start a friendship, though you need more than that to make the friendship last

    This can also help turn an adversary, when they see that someone from the other side is a person, not an evil caricature like they’d been taught. Especially if there’s mutual life-saving (or whatever threat)

  2. Erynus

    In my book the co-protagonist is a very close friend of the protagonist, and whenever one get in trouble the other come to help no question asked. Even when in one point their goals conflict, they let their friendship ease the matter, bargaining the best solution for both of them. Is not about they becoming friends, but acting like they already are.
    There is also a less close friend that tend to abuse the leeway from my MC friendship, turning more and more towards antagonist.

  3. LeeEsq

    To a large extent, you can’t control how the audience is going to react to what you want beyond telling them. Lots of authors thought they were writing perfectly platonic friendships but audiences crave romance and/or sex, and it’s really kind of shocking how many people can’t deal with a story with no romance at all even if romance won’t make any particular sense in a particular story. Audiences see romance in stories where nearly everybody is in elementary school even if the authors don’t put it in. So you try to keep chemistry to a minimal and bluntly tell that there is no romance but a good chunk of the audience will see chemistry anyway.

    • Cay Reet

      Shippers gonna ship, I guess.

      I think if there’s more books without a romance (which in a lot of stories feels like it was pushed in, because ‘you have to have a romance plot in your story’), then people would stop thinking that there has to be a romance every time.

      When I introduced a male character in the first book of an ongoing series I write, I had a scene where he lets slip he’s gay – so I could nip the ‘will they, won’t they’ thing in the bud. He’s gay, my MC is a woman (who has a principle about not starting anything with someone she works with), so no romance.

      • LeeEsq

        It’s a chicken and egg sort of question. Do many stories have unnecessary romances because the audience wants them or do people expect romances because the authors keep putting them in. During the Golden Age of Hollywood, a boy-girl story was seen as a necessity for nearly every movie even the ones dealing with serious and not very romantic topics.

        I suspect that we keep getting unnecessary romances in stories because the audience expects them, particularly when the cast are teenagers or older. People simply can’t perceive of something else being on people’s minds.

        • Intptt

          Maybe people ship or put romance in their stories because they genuinely like romance, not because they think they have no choice.

        • Emily

          I encountered an interesting case of reverse shipping, I guess you’d call it, during a recent chapter of a webcomic I follow. Two of the MCs, both male, were showing signs of romantic interest in each other (they did in fact end up together at the end, but it hadn’t been made explicit yet at that stage), and there ended up being a fairly acrimonious divide in the comments section between the people who shipped them and the people who refused to acknowledge that anything romantic was going on. My best guess is that, because so many ships involve non-canon same-sex relationships, the anti-shipping contingent read this as more of the same, even though it was fully intended as canon by the author.

        • Chris R

          For some shippers, a large part of the issue is a lack of representation of certain relationship types. You rarely get to see a romantic relationship between two men, for example, in mainstream media, so a lot of fans will insert that. Same with poly relationships and trans/non-binary characters.

          Then you have people like Reylo shippers…

  4. Ace of Hearts

    My absolute favorite example of a developing friendship (between two characters who initially disliked each other) is Vin and OreSeur in The Well of Ascension (Mistborn book two).

    I agree with the previous comments here: shippers will ship regardless of how clear you make it that the relationship is platonic. But that’s okay. I’m a romantic guy myself and even I am tired of reading unnecessary romance subplots, so keep the platonic relationships coming!

  5. Gwen

    I used to consume books about platonic relationships the way others did romance. I saw “best friend” on the back of a book or on the summary of a movie and I was sold.

    So a few examples are
    The Three Musketeers, the MC accidentally insults/antagonizes the potential friends. Right when they would be enemies, a third party unites them and they take the MC under their wing, impressed by their skills.

    Sherlock Holmes- A lonely friend who is unsocial and has the inability to spend time out, becomes fascinated with their new MC, who is unique and provides many diversions

    The Aubrey/Maturin series- Two characters (Both MCs in this case) who are very different, one is in charge, and the other has very particular skills that are invaluable as they deal with different adventure and personal problems.

    The Jeeves books- The MC is a hopeless mess who leads a charmed life, but gets their self into messes only the friend can get them out of. The social status difference between them, and their different ideas of propriety provide the friction

    Lord of the Rings- 2 notable ones. Two friends start as disliking each other for inherited reasons, but when each notices the other appreciate their cultures, they become close, later devoting their lives to visiting each other’s important cultural touchstones.

    The MC has to do something dangerous and their employee goes along because of duty and a sense of wonder. The loyalty shown by the employee and the deep struggles the MC face bring them together.

    I will admit, I don’t know many books about friendships between women, other than the usual one where they suffer separately from the same indignities. (The other one is found in anime and cartoons where they come together because they need to/destiny, and they rarely actually have strong platonic chemistry outside of talking about friendship a lot)

    It wasn’t until I actually got some female friends I became less obsessed about friendship of the fictional sort.

    But it would be nice if there were more books about women that used some of the same dynamics as above.

    • Kenneth Mackay

      Now I’m trying to imagine what a female Jeeves and Bertie (?Bertha) Wooster would be like…!

      • Cay Reet

        That could actually be a fun story to read or write. The well-meaning Bertha with the bright ideas and her maid-and-best-friend Jeeves who puts things in order.

    • Dinwar

      The first book of the Enchanted Forest Chronicles is about friendship between females. There’s the princess and the dragon she works for, who come to respect each other; the dragon and a witch who have a long friendship; the princess and another princess, who’s friendship grows organically through the book. Those friendships drive much of the plot.

      Some of the Star Wars EU books (Legends, I guess now) deal with female friendship as well. In a universe where there are sentient trees the idea of sexism seems (outside of the Empire) to have been seen as the ridiculous nonsense it is.

      The Aubrey/Maturin series has a lot to say on the topic of friendship. The relationships between the various characters–major, minor, and recurring–is at least as interesting as the battles.

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