A social structure is part of many species’ daily interactions, and certainly a big part of what it is to be human, so it probably goes for aliens as well. To boldly seek out – new friends? What role does friendship play in novels?

If the pandemic and associated lockdowns have taught us anything, it is the value of friends and simple human contact. Even the most curmudgeonly of introverts will have used social media or the phone to interact. It is human to crave other humans and supposed to be one of the things that aided our evolutionary survival, and the number of social interactions is also a strong indicator for longevity.

I saw an old episode of ‘The Twilight Zone’ recently where there was a lone man in an empty village, but signs people had just left recently. He panicked, and this led to injury and eventually a near catatonic state. The twist came when it was revealed that he was enduring isolation to prepare for a Mars journey and the entire town was in his mind. The isolation from others drove his mind over the edge.

There are countless stories of the hermit aiding an orphan or a quest. Heidi wins over her cheese obsessed grandfather, eventually reuniting him with a lost love. Pollyanna reunites her cold aunt with the kindly doctor. Children are often the catalyst for a re-entry into the human race, where the hermit is the outlier that must be brought back into society.

So sometimes a friendship can be a substitute for a parental unit. Ayla and the old wise man, Mamut formed a strong bond in the Earth Children series. Other times a friendship is between strangers forced into a survival situation – a lot of post apocalypse novels rely on this. A chance meeting and a bond is formed – do you save the life of a stranger and allow them into your circle, or do you view all strangers as a danger?

Fantasy novels are ripe for odd friendships, often between species. The Discworld novels of Terry Pratchett showed over and over the bonds that could form between species. For instance, on the Watch with humans, trolls, and dwarves all working to get along. The friendships in ‘Monstrous Regiment’ and ‘The Last Hero’ are truly the core of the books.

But let’s not forget the classics such as LOTR. Sam and Frodo, Legolas and Gimli. Friendships that would have seen each die for the other and have become an icon of bonds of friendship. Holmes and Watson are another long term bonded friendship.

An interesting aspect of novels is the perspective of the writer. Can a writer grasp the nature of friendships between the opposite gender to them? Or a different social class? There is a test for female characters known as the Bechdel test, where female characters must talk to each other about something other than a man. It’s depressing that in many films, books etc it is still mainly about men and what they are doing, as if saving the universe would just be a matter of punching aliens.

What are the limits of friendship? Would a character die for the other? End up in the arms of their best friend’s wife? Does a character spurn them if they end up in jail or support them? Is it a friendship based on situation – a survival situation where different social levels must depend on each other. Does the relationship end when the quest ends? ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ is a classic of friendship that transcended the jail location into one of depth and understanding.

But it’s not just between the same genders – what about the friends with benefits, or male- female non sexual bonds? Or course, including all the range of preferences as well. How is that dealt with? ‘The X-Files’ is an excellent example of long term friendship that went no further. Perry Mason and his secretary never got together, despite book after book of flirting and mutual support. A book that offers extensive flirting and a will they – wont they frisson will need to deliver to satisfy readers, in the classic friends to lovers romance trope.

So is the lone wolf character a likely one? Or are friendships a core of the novel? Even Conan had friends, albeit sometimes short-lived ones. Rambo with the whole red necked nation after him still had someone in his corner. Interactions with others is how characters reveal themselves without a lengthy internal monologue. Other people are a mirror for our true selves, revealing the best and worst of us.

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World Building: Friendship
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