Five reasons why a best friend is a great secondary character for your main protagonist, especially in a romantic plot or subplot.
It was National Best Friends Day recently and what better way to celebrate than to help other writers understand how important their protagonist’s best friend is. Whether your main lead is a self-sufficient person who can cry alone or a group-hugger who weeps on ten people for equal periods of time, they need a best friend. Why, you ask? Because a best friend, by definition, is someone who you share the strongest possible kind of friendship with, and truth be told, two are always better than one.
So here’s a list of reasons why you should be adding a best friend to your list of secondary characters.
They make your protagonist more real.
Unless you’re writing about a loner who finds themselves through a path of self-love, you need secondary characters to make your protagonist seem more real. A best friend can make them come alive, if done right.
A best friend acts like a secondary version of your protagonist–whether insanely similar or amazingly opposite. They can be used to propel scenes that make your MC look more real. For example, the heroine had to go to a party but the best friend never sees her there so she runs to the heroine’s home only to find her shaking with anxiety in her bathroom–and for your readers to find out what the heroine’s problems are.
Similarly, the heroine can find her best friend in that situation. Whatever be the case, human interaction, whether in fiction or in reality, is a huge proof of being human so don’t miss it out by throwing away a best friend’s arc. Because truth is, you can write a scene with the MC and their best friend in any place, period or incident.
They can turn around any type of scene.
A quirky best friend or a serious one, any type of this secondary character can turn around a scene. Your protagonist is crying and you want to add a tinge of humor, either push the quirky best friend toward the protagonist and let them crack a joke, or the awkward best friend who doesn’t know what to do when someone’s crying, can sprinkle some giggles.
Best friends don’t need too many justifiable reasons to enter scenes–they can walk during the most intimate moments or through the saddest ones–and thus, they offer a great deal of flexibility to you as a writer.
They can make your protagonist look wrong.
Which is just as important! No matter what your story is, your protagonist is wrong at some point in their journey. Are they even developing if they’re just always right? And who better to point out their flaws than the honest best friend.
Whether it’s a plan gone wrong or a matter of self-reflection, your protagonist’s eye-opening realisations can be catalysed in the presence of their best friend. When your readers would be questioning the protagonist’s moves or thoughts, the best friend can voice out your reader’s views to the protagonist.
For example, MC wants to bust a party but she’s not a party-animal. Readers are probably questioning the MC’s character development because she was not even stepping out of her house in the last scene. What’s the motive? What’s the reason? Is it because of that jerk love interest? [Read more about creating a jerk’s character arc] Let the best friend ask these questions and your readers would get all the answers…or none; depends on how cruel of a writer you are.
They can correct your protagonist.
Rooting from the previous point, your protagonist needs to be shown the righteous path or at less the less-wrong one. And you know what they say, a wrong person never sees the wrong in them. So who would be enlightening your MC? The best friend!
At times, tough action has to be taken, even if it’s your protagonist-cum-baby. Let the best friend be the the action-taker (no, it’s not a word) and guide them through their self-destructive or dumbness-overloaded phase. They can question the main character’s strong opinions and debate against them too. [Read more about writing characters with strong opinions]
Trust me, it’s much better than the readers shouting at your MC through the pages like the audience does during the descending-to-kitchen scenes in a horror movie.
They make the best sidekicks.
Sidekicks can make or break your story, trust me! They can also open options for future spin-offs. Casting a best friend can automatically rank your sidekick higher in the character food chain.
A good sidekick can offer a perspective different from the main character’s and thereby give a wider view to your readers of a situation. In all the times of despair, they can the ray of sunshine or the emotional/physical saviour. A best friend can make the perfect sidekick for they don’t need a reason to be one! They’re the protagonist’s best friend, what else do you expect from them? They would stick by the MC through thick and thin and control out-of-hands situations by coordinating when needed.
Plus, they’re the shoulders your MC can cry on, you can’t just not include them!
Including a best friend in your list of secondary characters can certainly strengthen your story and your main character’s development. Of course, these points are all made for a true best friend and not one of those fraud ones. So if you’re building a best friend arc to later kick them out or around, don’t be inspired by these pointers.
Whether the story has a romantic subplot or not, the best friend is just as important as any other character, even the love interest. Be especially cautious when writing a young-adult or contemporary with a romance arc because one of the biggest mistakes I’ve come across is sudden disappearance of literally every secondary character once the love interest walks in to the room. [How do I come across such mistakes? Well, I’m a beta reader so I sometimes get paid to do exactly that!]
Keep your book as realistic as possible especially when it comes to characters and dwell on the thought of adding a best friend to your story instead of just crossing them off the list.
– F A N N A