Do you ever stop for a moment and think about who you’re standing next to at any given time?
When I lived in Georgia for two years, every now and then I had this hilarious and awing realization that anyone I spoke to was someone who lived in the state of Georgia and not in New Jersey where I had lived all of my life until that point.
Fair warning, don’t go to Atlanta expecting everyone to say, “Y’all.” You will be disappointed.
Recently I stopped and considered who I’m with when I have friends over to the apartment or when I go out with friends. I first met my current close friends when I started dating Ryan a little over five years ago. They had Ice Cream Tuesdays where they went to Dunkin Donuts and then back to Ryan’s house for boardgames.
In Georgia I met some pretty awesome folks, one of whom is now a Handmaid (bridesmaid) in my wedding. I’ve reconnected or remained relatively close to a handful of people from college and one or two from earlier than that.
I stop and think, “In the story that is my life, these are the people the author includes in this or that scene to make me a more realistic character.”
I can describe each of my friends to you with a little paragraph that sounds like a snippet from a novel because to a deep enough degree of comfort, I like having them around and I’ve gotten to know them.
People don’t exist in this world alone so if you are going to write realistically, unless your character is in a void, there are people around. Some of those people might share enough values and interests that they may call each other friends. A friend is an important person in your life on some level. Maybe you share core personal beliefs about life. Maybe you’re both board game fanatics. Maybe you love the same types of books, food, clothes, places to visit, etc.
When I was extremely active on Fictionpress.com, a few reviews for my big story still stand out to me, one of which was along the lines of, “Ita’s two friends don’t have much personality. You could probably make them one person.”
It was true–and a little hurtful to my young author pride to see such criticism of the characters that I thought were amazingly dynamic. I eventually (much much later) combined the characters after all. One was supposed to be the tomboy sporty girl who could get herself into trouble by acting before thinking. The other was a little shallow and materialistic from being spoiled by her adoptive parents, but had a good heart. Unfortunately, they just didn’t do much individually. They existed to be Ita’s best friends. That was it.
If the characters around your MC (main character) are flat and boring, it doesn’t create a realistic picture if they are supposed to be close to the MC. Why are they there? Will they help the MC in some way even indirectly? Are they emotional support through some secret the MC maybe didn’t tell them about?
Whatever their purpose is, they have one. If they don’t, if you could cut them from the story and the plot wouldn’t be affected, they aren’t realistic. That’s a lesson I learned in a playwriting class where you don’t have pretty prose to pretend a character is more valuable than they are.
Additional characters are fine to fill a room, especially in school settings or outings to large and commonly traveled places, but if you are going to say they are a friend of the MC, they have to be dynamic, interesting, and real.
Think about the people you surround yourself with daily. If you cut them out, would your plot be affected?