It’s been a while since I last blogged, but when I saw it was International Friendship Day coming up, I felt the urge to write about it. I’m not entirely sure why that urge to blog has been absent for so long – I suspect it’s because life’s got busier and available time has got less.
So, just in case you don’t know, both my books are very firmly focused on friendship, and specifically teenage friendship. In Summer of No Regrets the focus is on being friends, whereas in my latest Asking for a Friend it’s about becoming friends.
The term ‘friend’ has a pretty wide definition – from casual acquaintances to the close personal relationship that you have with only a few people. Experts differ but most say people have between two and five of these close, intimate friends, which when I heard it surprised me. Not that I have more or less than that range, but I’d always assumed people had more. These are the people that you can be the closest version of yourself with, who are there for you and you’re there for them. Where the trust is absolute. They are often lifelong friendships and can withstand gaps in time and distance.
As a writer for teens, I realise these friendships can start very early on in life, so by the time they’re a teenager there’s every chance they could have known someone since pre-school and have been close friends for a decade. However more usually, teenagers have more new friends than old, and there’s a lot of shifting between levels – from casual, to close and perhaps back again. As people grow and develop their world and self-views, this has a knock-on effect to how they relate to each other and so friendships during the teenage years can potentially be volatile.
And it’s this dynamic, how characters relate to each other and why, that fascinates me. I write from multiple viewpoints to fully explore how these friendships work, what makes them tick and how much is invested by people into these relationships. I read a lot about friendships and about writing, but I didn’t find much to read on how to write friendships, so here are my eight top tips on writing friendships:
- As with every story, get to know your characters. Until you know the individuals in the group, you can’t know how the group dynamic works or doesn’t. Even if writing from one viewpoint consider what’s making the other characters tick so that they come across as three dimensional. Include the difference between what your character says and what they think.Why are they friends? Is it convenience (for example, they all are in the same maths set), is it longstanding or fairly recent? Know the friendship history.
- Why do they stay friends? Is it a mutually happy relationship or is one too scared to leave? Emotions can ebb and flow in a group, so don’t be afraid to show that. Think about your own relationships – some of the people you love the most can still irritate you. Try to show that light and shade.
- Is there any situation that could break them? There usually would be but often relationships aren’t put through extreme tests. Some friendships last as long as it’s convenient, so a change of school would bring a friendship to a close, and that’s perfectly valid, whereas others last beyond that.
- It is one-sided? If one does all the giving of emotional support and the other the taking, then this isn’t a true friendship. Relationships may go through phases of this if there’s a particular need, but needs to balance out eventually if it’s going to benefit both people. Consider if this is a toxic relationship, and the implications of that.
- Think about their dialogue – do they have in-phrases or in-jokes? They’ll have shared memories and moments of joy that they’ll laugh about. You don’t have to explain everything, let the reader pick up their relationship through what they say. This is a great way to ‘show’ not ‘tell’ their friendship history.
- As characters, are they similar, or do they have complementing traits? Is one shy and the other outgoing? One patient, the other hot-headed? When considering a group of friends in a story, it’s important to get the right blend of characters. In Asking for a Friend the characters start off as quite separate, a seemingly unlikely group, but as you read on, you find that they each have just what the others need, until hopefully by the end, you’re thinking of them as a natural friendship.
- Be honest with yourself and use your own experiences with others to find out how your characters might be feeling. I have some friendships which ended and I still have no idea why. Did I do something unwittingly? Maybe. Does it still hurt a bit when I think about it? Yes. Use your relationships and examine the awkward, odd, unarticulated feelings you have and put them into your characters. This will make your characters come alive with all their nuanced messiness.
I think that in fiction, as in life, if you have a solid, supportive friendship, it can tint the bleakest situations with hope. Happy Friendship Day – may your friendships be long and happy ones.
Asking for a Friend
Agnes, Hattie and Jake travel on the school bus together but don’t know each other well. They plan a week in Weston as a ‘study break’ before exams but none of them admit the real reasons they need to get away.
Agnes must find her sister.
Hattie can’t bear being home now all her friends have ghosted her.
And Jake is afraid he’s ill and has absolutely no idea how to tell anyone.
Thrown together, what will happen when the secrets start to spill out?
Summer of No Regrets
After their exams, four sixteen-year-old best friends pledge to live a summer regret-free, doing what they want to do however much it scares them:
Sasha agrees to spend the holiday with her father in Geneva, having not seen him for six years, but is not expecting his new girlfriend, or the young man in the cafe.
Shy Hetal decides to go to science camp, and finds a new competitive spirit.
Nell gets a summer job, but after her accident her mother is scared to let her out of the house – so to do what she wants she will have to lie to her parents.
Cam goes to look for her birth father, scared of the future when she can no longer stay with her foster family. What will she find?
As all these choices become difficult, even dangerous, they will need to turn to each other for the strength to face the future.