Worldbuilding: Friendships

Who do your characters like to hang out with, and why?

In some stories this is more critical than others. In a James Bond-type spy thriller or a fantasy adventure or space opera bent on stopping the Evil Overlord from taking over the world, friendship generally only comes up in terms of, who do you trust to watch your back?

In cozy mysteries, though, or fantasies and SF with somewhat lower stakes, who a character’s friends are can be integral to the plot. Among other things, friendship influences how fast information and gossip travels, what you spend your spare time doing, and what areas of town you know – or don’t. The amateur detective who’s part of a knitting circle is likely to have access to very different info than the one that’s part of an ugly C programs club.

(Though maybe not completely different. Both programs and knitting depend, at their base, on binary. Meaning it’s theoretically possible to knit computer code.)

On top of that, friendships help define your main characters, fleshing them out into real people. Garrett of Glen Cook’s fantasy detective series seems all the more likeable and realistic a guy given his friendship with half-elf Morley Dotes – knee-capper, leg-breaker, womanizer, yet charming and reliable in any crisis that doesn’t involve gambling.

Likewise Professor Peter Shandy of Charlotte MacLeod’s cozy mysteries is friends with the faculty, staff, and students of Balaclava Agricultural College, plus various townsfolk, doctors, and funeral directors. If someone was murdered on the interstate he might be out of luck, but if a dead body turns up anywhere on campus or in town, he likely knows who they are, what they’ve been up to, and at least the first one or two skeletons in their closets. And does his best to keep a charitable mind about most of it. Meaning we see him as more human when he’s mourning the loss of a decent person. And when the deceased isn’t a good person, we get to see him struggle with the reasonable desire to not get involved. And so he proves he’s a good man, because he always comes down on the side of justice, no matter what.

Friendships let you show how your character interacts with people he’s known a long time. In-jokes, body language, how much sarcasm they volley back and forth – all of these help your reader see the character as someone they could get along with. Or not. Or even someone who might personally rub them the wrong way, but has moral integrity they can still respect.

Of course, because friendships give insight into your character, they can be a two-edged sword when it comes to pulling the reader into your story. If the friendship is unhealthy or unbalanced, and one side is always giving while the other takes, people are going to look at the whole story askance. Now, that might be intentional on your part. You might be writing a villain, and using others is the classic giveaway. Even if you’re writing a hero, the genius or hard-bitten warrior who needs to learn to People better is a classic trope. But make sure you are doing that on purpose, or else be prepared to go back and do a lot of editing to get that personal journey into the story.

Friendships show that there’s more to a character’s life than just powering through the latest crisis. And that’s one of the rewards we read for – someone having some good things in life, along with all the troubles in the world.

Think your world through. Give your characters friends!


20 thoughts on “Worldbuilding: Friendships

  1. It is a little more than theoretically possible to knit computer code – look up the Apollo Guidance Computers.

    They literally wove read-only memory (72KB memory storage limit) that operated the computers that took NASA astronauts to the Moon and back.

    Just imagine the fun you could have with that if you got a spellcaster to do the same? Heh. Clothes that with a flick of the finger go from placid, harmless, non-protecting ballgown to take-an-artillery-shell-and-not-flinch armor.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. (turns a suspicious eye towards Vathara’s various “beading” posts — thar’s binary code hidden in them there earrings!)

      Fun fact — coding errors during Apollo ran, IIRC, about $25k (in 1960s dollars!) to junk a “rope” and re-weave it. Yikes.

      So… if your hard-boiled detective is friends with an encryption mathematician, a knitter, and a steganography expert… “the spies were hiding messages in the weave of their export rugs!”

      …I wanna say that was a plot-point in The Cryptonomicon at some point, but that book got into *so many* different kinds of cryptography….

      Of course, what private eye would be complete without at least one tinfoil-hat friend who has “guns, lots of guns” and a safehouse boobytrapped from here to infinity? Or, these days, a tinfoil-hat uber-hacker who lacks boundaries (“dude, we gotta talk about your bank balance. And your last tax return.”), but comes in handy when you need a deadman switch to blackmail the rogue NSA agents with….

      Liked by 3 people

    1. Or are they lonely and introverted? Did a friend die, did they move? There’s a song Mercedes Lackey wrote based on an unpublished short of hers, where the POV character eventually reveals that she was the only survivor of a wreck. As the medic it really affected her and she refused to reach out to others or let others reach out to her. Which just means any thinking commander should have slapped her into therapy, but whatever.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. True! Very true. But it’s entirely possible for an introvert to feel lonely because for whatever reason their people aren’t around. And that’s telling on its own! Think of how lonely Rain would be in Oni the Lonely if Diana was laid up with pneumonia or a bad cold or the flu or whatever. Or maybe she had a conference or a business meeting that had her out of town when Kyosai and Miya collided with one mourning cove doctor.

        Rain is definitely an introvert, and she’s lonely. Diana helps. So do other people in town in varying doses. But her loneliness tells us more about her character especially in combination with her mourning her grandparents/effectual parents.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. One of the clues that James Bond isn’t the Worst Guy Ever is that, somehow, he has collected a fair number of male friends around the world. And even if he doesn’t see them very often, they seem eminently willing to Put Up With His Crap, act as wingman, and find him food and drink and clothes that fit his tastes.

    Given that the books came out shortly after WWII, I suspect we’re supposed to take them as people he met during the war, or fellow warriors in the Cold War.

    He also knows some really skeevy people, of course.

    Anyway, the point for the author is that an interesting friend or acquaintance can not only provide exposition, but can also break up the mood. James Bond is a bit brooding, but his buddy might be any kind of fun personality. And then there’s two people to potentially get shot!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. You know… it occurs to me that it’s kinda sad that Ian Fleming never wrote some kind of fictionalized version of “James Bond hunts down and kills the Cambridge Five,” which would probably have been very therapeutic and stuff.

      But it would probably have broken some kind of Cold War unwritten rule.

      Of course, the KGB didn’t have a lot of sense of humor about fiction, and probably any undiscovered “friends” of the Cambridge Five would also have taken it badly. But all the same, it would have been entertaining. Bond does mention the situation in From Russia with Love (the book).

      But yeah… you can always have friends who turn out to be total scumbags, if you knew them at Hogwarts when they were minding their manners. Or in some other kind of mass friendship scenario, where people sorta know each other and share interests, but don’t necessarily have deep conversations or get to know character flaws.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. The one that was totally freaky was in the newish history of the D-Day body caper, where they were doing all this larping at the UK spy office to produce verisimilitude of backstory for their corpse. And the guy running it all, who kept a bunch of secret papers under his bed at home, had a brother who was in the Red Orchestra and spying on everything for the USSR. But not his brother.

        They were apparently totally unaware of each other’s activities until the end of their lives, in fact. But they did set up a ping pong federation in the UK, and they played a lot of table tennis together.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Like the Marion Zimmer Bradley circles, in Fandom.
        (actually, that works really well, because the seriously nasty folks who know it and aren’t observed are *good* at sorting out circles of influence so anybody who will DO anything are outside)

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Really freaky how many college teacher types pushed her stuff *hard*, too– I think my favorite English teacher, the Troll, would’ve been one of the far edge folks like Lackey; they’ll push the stuff the bad is rooted in, but oppose anything that actually happens and is bad.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Hmm. I just ran across her books in libraries. I enjoyed some of the setting and characters, but the whole “you’re either a kept woman, Amazon, or Keeper” just… blotted out wide swathes of what I knew people would be doing in a rebarbarized society. Where were the weavers, the spinsters, the midwifes, etc.?


      5. I don’t actually know *what* it was that made me bounce so hard off of Mists of Avalon, but I didn’t even start reading it– and the same thing was hard enough that seeing her name/connecting a book to the title made me do a hard pass.

        The only thing I can think of is that the Troll pushed it as a female focused retelling of King Arthur, and I *really dislike* that kind of reframing, it tastes bad.

        Liked by 1 person

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