My novel, Give Up the Ghost, has a set-up that might feel familiar to fans of paranormal fiction. There’s a main character with supernatural ties. There’s a character of the opposite sex who enters her life and shakes it up. You know where this is going, right?
If you guessed that they end up in a heated romance, you would actually be wrong. But I wouldn’t blame you for assuming that. Before I even started writing the book, I knew a romance would be the expected outcome. It was very deliberate that I chose not to meet that expectation.
I had reasons, of course. Both of the characters were pretty messed up, and even though they’d come a long way by the end, I didn’t think either was ready for more than friendship. Just as importantly, though, I wanted to rebel against the idea that two people would need to be in love to have a meaningful connection and make a difference in each other’s lives.
Does anyone really think that the only important connection between two people comes from romantic love? I have trouble believing so. And yet I find so many books, particularly in urban fantasy but often in other genres as well, focus on a main character and his or her love interest(s), with nary a friendship in sight. Sure, the main characters may have acquaintances, coworkers, and the lot, but someone they can turn to at their most vulnerable moments yet have no interest in kissing? Rarely.
I would love to see that change.
Think about it. In real life, while romance does play a large role in many people’s lives, everyone but the most determined loner has at least one friend. And especially for people the age of young adult protagonists (though this applies to a lot of adult main characters as well), most have known and trusted their friends for far longer than their current love interests. It would be completely believable for a protagonist to have at least one close friend as well as a romantic partner (or even instead of!). Fiction doesn’t have to reflect reality, but it’s often more powerful when it does.
Certainly, bringing friendships into more main characters’ lives could make them more believable and just plain interesting to readers. It increases the complexities of their social lives and history, and adds depth to their emotional make-up. It lets readers see other facets of that character’s personality, since we often show sides of ourselves to our friends that others never see. Not to mention that having more people around that the protagonist cares about offers more opportunities for conflict—by seeing them in jeopardy, by having to deal with their different points of view—and more conflict makes almost any story better.
Sure, you can get just as much conflict through a romantic interest or lover. But having some or all of the conflict come from a friend means a story can explore other aspects of human relationships. What makes people care about each other when romantic attraction isn’t a factor? How does that affect the way they interact with each other? A main character’s friendships could make a seemingly familiar problem fresh again, offer chances to surprise the reader, and introduce a level of unpredictability that’s harder to achieve with romances, with so many having played out on the page. And there’s nothing I like more as a reader than having my expectations thrown off in favor of something different but just as good.
I can’t think of a single good reason not to hope for more friendships in fiction. If you agree with me, speak up! And if you know of any great, recent books with a strong friendship, let me know—I’d love to read them.