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!