Often, but not always, part of a story is about characters finding friends, whether it’s the two detectives partnered for the first time, a character going on a quest and meeting allies on the way, or, in some cases, the beginnings of a romantic relationship. In some ways these can be the trickiest friendships to depict because we have to show the growing friendship while not distracting from the plot, unless the relationship is the plot which is always possible.
First we have to decide why these characters come together and stay together. The answer needs to be more developed than ‘because that’s the story’: Are they drawn together by an instant click of their personalities? Are they forced together by circumstances they can’t escape, at least not immediately, such as the detectives? Does one follow along on the ‘quest’ because it looks like fun? These elements are all influenced by characters and circumstances, not simply plot necessity. For instance, they could bond over a shared sense of humour, the detectives would need to go through a clerical process to be separated which would take time, and a character following on the ‘quest’ because it looks like fun says a lot about them.
We can even have characters that don’t come together immediately but are eventually drawn together by necessity. This often appears when there’s a wise old mentor involved where at first the student rejects the mentor until circumstances make the knowledge they offer essential. Or sometimes the mentor refuses the student until they have no choice, although they could say no, derail our story and potentially destroy the world in the process. Once again, the fact that the mentor helps the protagonist rather than ‘helping’ the antagonist by refusing tells us something about the mentor, even if it’s just that they really don’t like the antagonist.
Even if we have an instant spark between the characters we still have to build their relationship as the story progresses, relationships are rarely static and over the course of our story our new friends are going to go through trials that will change them and their relationship. This can manifest in the way they speak to each other, the way they behave, and how far they will go for each other (more on this later in the week). The classic example would be the characters that dislike each other to begin with but by the end of the story would die for each other, such as Legolas and Gimli from Lord of the Rings.
A problem that can arise, similar to romance, is reaching the end of their relationship arc too soon. It isn’t impossible but often seems too fast, and suspicious, if two characters meet and spontaneously become devoted to each other. However, we can play this to our advantage and have characters appear to be devoted to each other for their own gains, an example would be the character who gains another’s trust with the intention of betraying them.
However these friendships play out it should fit with the character’s personalities rather than simply to move the plot along, though it will do this. Readers tend to find fictional friendships most satisfying when they fit the characters’ behaviour rather than being left to wonder why characters’ made the choice they did.