Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The BFF in YA: A Character Study

Back by popular demand: another YA character study!

Generally speaking, high school can be a pretty miserable place. Without a best friend, it would be downright unsurvivable. No wonder best friend characters are so prominent in YA lit, right?

But what's in a BFF? They help flesh out the main character, and occasionally they even outshine the protagonist with their inherent awesomeness. Here's a rundown of common best friend characters, with shiny examples from movies and TV shows. And fun commentary.

The Bad Influence

Rayanne from MY SO-CALLED LIFE
Need cheap alcohol and sketchy guys to hang with? Rayanne's your gal. She's the epitome of a person with a good heart and bad decision-making skills.
* Pro - Bad Influences help define the protag because they bring up plenty of moral dilemmas.
* Con - Authors may use Bad Influences simply as a plot device to get the MC into difficult situation, which doesn't do this BFF justice.

The Geektastic Sidekick

She researches the best way to navigate the city sewer systems while hunting vamps AND helps you pass geometry!
* Pro - The brains behind any operation, the Geektastic Sidekick is super useful, and his/her various skills may include hacking, lockpicking, and fluency in archaic languages.
* Con - Teens can excel at a lot, but if the Geektastic Sidekick's skills are too awesome, then they're not the sidekick anymore. Plus, it all becomes a little far-fetched. 

The Frenemy

Ultimate Frenemy Moment: She ditches her "best friend" Bianca at a party to hang with Bianca's crush, Joey Donner. Ouch.

(It's ok, Bianca, Joey's a d-bag anyway.)

Honorable Mention:

"You're a virgin who can't drive."
Except she redeems herself:

* Pro - The Frenemy ramps up tension like no other. She gives you a manicure one minute and a stab in the back the next. Yikes!
* Con - If the Frenemy is too awful, it makes the reader doubt the main character's judgment and self-esteem. Seriously, if she has no redeeming qualities, dump the beeyotch.

The Sympathetic Ear

Rajah from ALADDIN
Sure, he doesn't say much, but Rajah's there with a furry shoulder to cry on when Jasmine blathers on about her lack of suitable boytoys.
* Pro - Your MC needs somewhere to go when the world sucks.
* Con - If the Sympathetic Ear is just that and nothing more, you might as well have the MC write in a diary. Snoozefest...

The Outrageous One

When Romy concocts an epic scheme to invent fake lives for their high school reunion, Michele goes right along with it. Did you know they invented Post-Its?
* Pro - Everyone loves a crazy. The Outrageous One puts humor in any situation.
* Con - Did you create this character because your protag and plot are too boring otherwise? Are you using the Outrageous One to conveniently put your MC in stupid situations? Tsk, tsk.

The Balancing Act

Cameron tries his darndest to rein in Ferris's cockamamie schemes. He's just not very good at it.
* Pro - The Balancing Act highlights the protag's character traits via opposites. Opposites attract, right?
* Con - Be careful not to make the best friends so different that readers wouldn't buy their friendship as legit.

The Outcast

#1 hater of the Plastics, Janis shows Cady what it's like to be on the fringe.
* Pro - This can be especially interesting when the protag isn't an outcast but the best friend is.
* Con - The goth/edgy/emo thing has been done so much that if it's not done well... bo-ring!

The Partner-in-Crime

Cristina from GREY'S ANATOMY
Cristina (about Meredith): "If I murdered someone, she’s the person I’d call to help me drag the corpse across the living room floor. She’s my person."
* Pro - The Partner-in-Crime best friend will happily break into your ex-boyfriend's new girlfriend's house with you to steal back the necklace that you left at his house and he gave to her as a "gift." Jerk.
* Con - Be careful that the P-i-C has his/her own individual personality. We don't need a clone of the MC!

The Secret Admirer

Duckie from PRETTY IN PINK
Hey Duckie, we missed you. Sorry you didn't get the girl.

Honorable Mention:

* Pro - This definitely adds complications to any story. When the protag falls in love with someone who's NOT the Secret Admirer, does the SA support it, or did I hear someone say "sabotage"?
* Con - This can slip into cliche territory in about .5 seconds. And if the Secret Admirer's affections are so obviously not a secret, the MC can't legitimately be in denial.

What's in a gender?
Girl-Girl: Generally speaking, best friends for a girl are EVERYTHING. The emotional investment, the trust -- it's huge. Therefore, it tends to fluctuate insanely. You could love your BFF one day and wish her a long and happy life in the fiery pits of hell the next. Some girl friendships aren't so volatile -- think Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. But keep in mind that when most girls fight, it's war, and forgiveness doesn't come easily, though sometimes it comes abruptly. Sound complicated? Welcome to being a girl in high school.
Girl-Guy: Ah, the co-ed friendship. Too often does it turn into the Secret Admirer relationship. Occasionally one or both parties is gay (this doesn't necessarily preclude the aforementioned one-way crush). And every once it awhile it's plain old platonic. Either way, it's one of my favorite dynamics.
Guy-Guy: Best friendship between guys is a lot more low-key but no less dedicated than girl-girl friendships. They don't declare their love for each other openly, unless they're the bromantic types, but they still care. How do they show it? They're there for each other. Guys don't talk, they act. In the same vein, when they fight, it's physical, but oftentimes it's over once the last punch is thrown. It's just important not to underestimate the Guy Code and the relationship between guys in high school.

So that's the BFF rundown. Who's your favorite best friend in YA? Any BFFs I forgot?


  1. Great rundown! The girl-girl freindship is so true!:)

  2. I love this post Donna! Well done you.

    Um, I'm not so great at naming categories, but I'm going to call it "The Underestimated" I wish I had a more current example, but sadly all I have is Charlotte in Pride and Prejudice. She's loyal and by Lizzie's side and always ready with good advice, but not afraid to swoop in and snatch up Mr. Collins when she has an opportunity. Sure, Lizzie turned him down, but it's still a big blow to the Bennett family.

    Oh, and my favorite best friends in YA are Gale and Katniss. But I want them to STAY friends. Go Team Peeta! :)

  3. I love the Christina/Meredith friendship. And I love that quote! I watch the show every Thursday and buy the seasons (yes, Im also a series addict)

    Great post!

  4. I love how detailed this is! And all the awesome references (Romy & Michele's High School Reunion! ;D)

  5. Great post! I'm writing a YA with a co-ed best friendship, and I loved your references! Another great frenemy is the whole "Mean Girls" clique (which I know you used later), but I love that quote Cady says about Gretchen and the plastics (how she'd rather be a member of the plastics and hating life than outside of them and happy or something).

  6. Oh, I love this post mostly because I love all the characters you referenced. I think Rayanne has to be one of my faves. Oh and Duckie. Doesn't every girl deserve a Duckie?

  7. Lovely post! I've always suspected that the OMG can't live without you girl-girl BFF relationship is a forerunner to the romantic relationship later in life. Ie. being with someone practically 24/7, having fun with them everyday, loving them, being super close to them. Not the sex, though. Well, not necessarily! Just a theory tho.

  8. awesome post! aw man i've really enjoyed these character studies :)

  9. * I don't know how I didn't reply to these awesome comments!

    Maria - I know! Thankfully, my girl-girl friendships were never high drama in high school, but I saw plenty that were.

    Shannon - The Underestimated - I follow your drift here. Kind of like a sidekick, but more in the shadows.

    Taschima - Yes! They're two of my fave TV friends.

    Pirate Penguin - I'm so happy someone loved my Romy & Michele reference - I thought I'd be the only one!

    Heather - Co-ed friendships are so fun to write. And that Mean Girls clique was awesome.

    LiLa - Every girl does deserve a Duckie!

    Rhiannon - Oh yes,that dependence can be scary in friendships, too.

    Leslie - So happy you liked it! We get a kick out of writing them.


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