The Theory of Friendships in Literature

This is sort of something I’ve been rolling around in my head for a while, so I’m going to write it out and you can agree or disagree, but I think it’s important to write out.

When a group of characters start a relationship, it is often the case that the writer will create a clear advantage for one person, and a clear disadvantage for another.

Let’s take some examples

Starting out the relationship between Captain America and Iron Man was very very tentative. They didn’t like each other, to put it bluntly. CA thought IM was a full of himself jerk, and IM thought CA was outdated and a goody goody. How is it that through the story, these two develop a bond?

My answer is the following formula.

  • A is more x, B is more y
  • B dislikes A for x[specific] or A dislikes B for y[specific]
  • B gains p from relationship with A or A gains z from relationship with B
  • A saves B
  • B develops a respect/trust/friendship for A
  • B saves A
  • A finally feels satisfied with B

If we look at this in context, it goes something like this for Captain America and Iron Man.

  • Captain America is physically stronger and more nationally driven, while Iron Man is much smarter with technology and a freer spirit to invent and create.
  • Iron Man dislikes Captain America for being such a goody goody
  • However, Iron Man has to follow Captain America’s leadership while Captain America has to use Iron Man for his innovative tools and information.
  • Captain America doesn’t let Iron Man grind up in the fans[I forget what they were called].
  • Iron Man develops a trust for Captain America’s ability to be punctual enough in the end, and to be able to be there when it counts.
  • Iron Man saves Captain America by throwing the Nuke into the sky. [He might have done it before this too at some point but this is the one I’m going to use.]
  • Captain America finally feels that Iron Man is worth having on the team because he will go all the way in the end if he needs to even if he doesn’t think he will ever need to.

Of course, this formula doesn’t necessarily develop friendship. What it shows developing is trust, in my opinion. You put two people in situations individually where they have to save each other, and they begin to understand that they can rely on each other to be safe. This key development of trust is necessary in two ways, A to B and B to A because once you’re not trusted by someone, you don’t always want to trust them unconditionally again.

We can see this working in more ways than just action movies too. Sometimes it’s something more elementary that is being used as a “save”

If we look at Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling uses this to develop the bond between Harry, Hermione, and Ron.

  • Hermione is smarter and a better wizard but Harry and Ron are more daring.
  • Harry and Ron are reluctant to keep Hermione around because she’s a girl and she doesn’t really fit in. She’s a know it all! [she followed them into the clutch of danger]
  • Hermione wants friendship and she feels like she gets that from Harry and Ron.
  • Hermione uses her smarts to get more information on the Philosopher’s stone and saves them from Fluffy, and the vines.
  • Harry and Ron realize just how useful having Hermione is for everything.
  • Harry and Ron save Hermione from being alone and in the future, protect her from bullying
  • The three of them remain close friends through the series saving each other countless times

Even if we look at some classics, like Pride and Prejudice, we can see this at play.

The initial bond between Darcy and Elizabeth is a bad one. Darcy doesn’t want to like Elizabeth, but he does, and Elizabeth does not like Darcy, but she can’t hurt her sister’s suitor’s friend to his face. That covers the first three. How do they save each other? Darcy saves Elizabeth from ruin when Lydia elopes, and Elizabeth saves Darcy from loneliness in the end when they actually get married. If you’ll notice, Elizabeth too was potentially going to be alone forever, and she too was saved by wedding Darcy because he’s discovered to be a good man and nothing like what she thought. In this way, when Elizabeth realizes that Darcy has saved her, she grows a very tight trust to him, and that trust allows Darcy to reassess and restate what he wants. Before this point, Darcy had every faith that Elizabeth was a beautiful woman who could make him happy, and in a way, she’s already saved him from being bored on a number of occasions.

I’d like to state that save, then, does not have to be something that is simply a physical act, but it can be an emotional one, or a metaphysical one as well. Within any conflict of person vs person, person vs self, person vs object, etc. there is a chance that someone else could step in, and help bring both, or one party out of the conflict by resolving it externally. If Jesus and Lucifer were fighting a war, and God stepped in and said No, Jesus wins, God saves Jesus. Likewise if a child is struggling with a jar of pickles and their parent steps in to open it for them, they are relieved from that conflict and thus, saved. Taking saved to the next level like this will allow us to develop better, tighter relationships through trust, without developing situations that our characters have to die in to be saved. The biggest potential for saving someone else is loneliness. Humans are pack animals, so to speak, we need other people to get along. There is all the potential in the world that one person could save another just by being a stranger who smiled at them.

So what happens if one of the pieces is missing? I think some of these are exaggerated points, to be honest. The key thing is that A saves B, and B saves A. As long as A and B both develop an understanding that the other person will have their back, that trust is going to be there on some level. Even between Villains and Heros there is a trust that goes into this relationship. The hero relies on the villain to not come up and shoot him in the head if he is developing overboard technology to take over the world. Likewise, the Villain is trusting that the Hero won’t shoot him in the head either. It is in their playbooks to avoid direct confrontation until the last minute, and when they do, not to kill each other. If that trust is broken, then, well, usually one party is dead and the story is over. Take Breaking Bad for instance, when Walter started being a complete crazy person, his partner lost faith in him and tried to quit, this is a break down of this trust, but because they both had, at one point in time, saved each other, his partner still didn’t ever think Walter would kill him.

If one of the sides has not saved the other, I think the biggest thing that happens is a weak friendship if there is friendship at all. Sometimes this happens, especially when one side is much weaker than the other and cannot possibly come up with a situation where they can save the other person. They can still form valuable relationships, but they are less valuable than if if that trust was formed, and not as long term.

How this is Applicable

Now that I’ve gone through and displayed the thoughts behind this, and some unique examples for how it can be used, I hope that people will see it as something they can use to develop trust between characters in situations where there wasn’t any trust in the novel to begin with, in a realistically accepted way.

To me, friendship and bonds are built through equivalent exchange. When both parties feel that it is valuable to keep the relationship, that is when they are most valuable to the individuals involved. Relationships, then, are an exchange of worth between two individuals. This requires trust that the other individual isn’t just going to suddenly drop out of nowhere and be useless with their information.

So, in writing stories, this is most useful because we can develop plots around trust development of two characters, and from then on, rely on that past experience to carry that trust until it is eroded past it’s worth, usually through A not saving B or B not saving A when they would have before. To regain this trust is harder than to form it originally because trust can break a lot easier than it can form.

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