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Platonic Friendship (Part 1)

Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, March 2, 2019

Writing good romance is hard- it has so many pitfalls to avoid, so many tropes to grapple with and principles to keep in mind, that experience is necessary.

Writing actual platonic friendships between a male and female character is even harder.

The basic reason why it is harder is because everyone expects them to be the romantic leads of the movie and end up getting together in the end. It doesn't matter if they are already engaged or married. It doesn't matter if they dislike each other (in fact if they do, it's an even surer bet they'll end up kissing center stage in the end!). It doesn't matter if they are absolutely dissonant or have no chemistry OR if they are interested in other things. The audience always will expect them to shack up at least, if not declare true love.

Like these guys, who at least admitted they had no basis for their relationship even as they were making out.

So what if you DON'T want your main male and female characters to be romantically involved? Is it impossible for a man and a woman to simply be friends?

Of course it isn't. In real life, there are plenty of examples.

Why then isn't it as easy to find such pairs of hetero friends in movies or TV?

Because often the idea is that romance (i.e. sex, potential or actual) sells while friendship (i.e. no sex) doesn't. The chemistry of romance is admittedly powerful stuff. It might also be easier to write because it comes with the ready-made suspense of ‘will they? won’t they?' (which is why we rarely see established couples in stable relationships in movies/TV where there is no such suspense), even if the romance itself is written badly and unhealthily (like the Thai rom coms where the couples are involved in a ‘slap-and-kiss’ routine).

To sell a friendship on the big screen, one would need to create different kinds of suspense than whether the pair will ‘get together’ or not, unless one goes for the easier recipe of a ‘will they? won’t they?' friendship break-up story.

But it can be so much more than limited to that kind of interaction!

Secure, powerful friendships create powerful duos or powerful teams to deal with the adversity the plot pits them against.

They can be detectives dealing with crime and other highly dangerous situations.

They can be soldiers or partisans or fighters relying on each other to survive.

They can be classmates dealing with the adversities of school (from studying to bullying).

They can be engaged in friendly competition and together excel in whatever they are doing, and/or support each other through their different endeavours.

The possibilities are endless.

So in this set of articles, I'm going to explore how to build a platonic hetero relationship and then what elements to consider avoiding.

How do you feel about writing platonic friendships?

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usedbooks at 10:26AM, March 3, 2019

Lol. Well, that's also part of "expectations." Knowing the director and story. Two main women in a Bond film. Both will sleep with him, and one will die. XD Disney animation has a 90% chance for a protagonist love story. DreamWorks is more like 50%. But random story you have no idea about? You will take with you what you know about archetypes and roles and will start reading things into different characters' interactions. (Yes, it is fun to throw expectations for a loop. That's why I like the Corpse Bride.) I was stating it as an way to write a platonic story without tension or resistance. Robot and Frank, for example, does not lend itself to instant "shipping."

bravo1102 at 9:57AM, March 3, 2019

You don't watch lifetime movies? Any single woman regardless of age introduced as a protagonist will be hooked up by the end of the movie. Throw out the "young" or even attractive in some romance films. Everybody finds love on Lifetime (and if you're old enough to remember-- on The Love Boat cue George Jones...) the love boat soon will be making another run-- )

usedbooks at 7:17AM, March 3, 2019

My point was about types and expectations. That's one problem in fiction as far as audience expectations. The standard protagonist is young, attractive, and available. That's what disappoints people about the lack of a romantic relationship. You can get away from that expectation by making the protagonist a "type" the audience doesn't instantly attach to a dating profile.

bravo1102 at 5:42AM, March 3, 2019

Anyway. in fiction one can go past all that and explore whatever human interaction one could want to without it grounded in life experience. And leave the tropes and stereotypes at where they belong. ;)

bravo1102 at 5:39AM, March 3, 2019

Were all getting sidetracked into whether it's real life or not. This is about fiction. How to do it in fiction-- not necessarily in your life. I've had plenty of platonic relationships with other humans. But you know you can extend this into non-hetero territory like my experiences at work. They were great friends and I was the token straight guy. I shared a house with another. I wasn't his "type ". (Implying that I'm a touch naive at my jaded stage of life is actually a compliment. That there may be some corner of human experience still to discover is heartening. Thanks @ozoneocean ;)

ShaRose49 at 10:00PM, March 2, 2019

My comic is all about platonic relationships!! One thing that I find helps is to make the male/female characters cousins or siblings, that way there’s no danger of people automatically shipping them as soon as they’re in the same room together. I try to focus on the strong bond that is forged through pain and difficult circumstances, so there is this huge amount of loyalty that doesn’t have to be just in romantic relationships. That said, I’m looking forward to any advice you might have! I’m always willing to learn

Gunwallace at 6:10PM, March 2, 2019

Interesting article.

usedbooks at 8:40AM, March 2, 2019

When I was younger, there was a "type" I found attractive. So anyone outside of that type, I just never viewed in that light. If I worked with someone I found attractive for a while, I'd do subtle sleuthing to find out if they were available interested. (I learned over time that *I'm* actually no one's "type." Lol.) I don't really "fall for" people any more. It has been years since I found someone attractive.

Ozoneocean at 8:01AM, March 2, 2019

From my experience I can have a friendship with a woman and feel no tension or attraction. During the first meeting and getting to know them when the brain and body are going "is this a potential? Maybe..." that's when the die is cast. After that it's either "I WANT THEM", "Yeah, she's a potential", or "Just friends". The other two can turn into "Just friends" given the time or circumstances. Sometimes a switch can flip and suddenly there's sexual attraction, but that's not often. I think people have this weird idea that everyone is ALWAYS in the "potential" bucket and you're just waiting for the chance. For me it's way more complex than that.

usedbooks at 7:57AM, March 2, 2019

I usually find the supporting characters so much more endearing in a "love story." Nothing wrong with flipping the cast and sending the "love story" into the ranks of the supporting cast (Willow, Lord of the Rings, Annie, Sherlock Holmes). Romances are great side plots, but they can be better among secondary chatacters while the protagonists focus on more important things.

NicAndBen at 7:31AM, March 2, 2019

(Nic) Great article Tantz! I'm looking forward to reading part two. This is a topic that is near and dear to my heart. Unfortunately I have met more people than I would like to admit that have stated they believe it's impossible for men and women to simply be friends; that there's always going to be some sexual tension between them. It's such a shame to have such a limited view of humanity. Also, I love the suggestions you listed in providing the interactions for those platonic relationships/storylines. Especially the soldier scenario :3

Ozoneocean at 7:19AM, March 2, 2019

Platonic relationships can be really interesting. Removing sexual tension from a pairing where you would normally expect there to be, really tips things on its end and makes things cooler. I'm not talking about a boring relationship like say Ash, Misty and Brock in the first few series of Pokemon where there is NO sort of chemistry at all and you wonder why they're even friends... but in stories where you would normally THINK the characters would just naturally get together but they don't. They never even share a kiss. For some reason that's so much better. And of course that happens a lot in real life: maybe two people are related, maybe they're off-limits because one or both are in relationships with other people and they're loyal, there's a big age difference etc. The idea that men and women can't be friends without romantic tension is naive bullshit.

bravo1102 at 6:45AM, March 2, 2019

Any large environment with people mingling like work-- there is always someone hooking up. Some keep it more quiet than others. There is always sexual tension even as the token hetero guy among all my gay coworkers back in my 20s. But there's also the three types: those who don't want to date you; those you don't want to date and those dating someone else. So you have platonic relationships with them Even share houses with them, but there is always that one night at a party and the alcohol flows and you up with each other. Not to be, won't happen again and leads nowhere and it's forgotten. Or it does lead to a romantic relationship that sputters and fizzles and then dies. That's life. And there are people who want nothing romantic in their lives for whatever reason and they can be fascinating to dive into the head of for a story. Do they come out of their shell or not? What are their reasons for it?

usedbooks at 4:44AM, March 2, 2019

The best ways to get around romantic expectations or readers/viewers is to alter the demographics to make such a relationship unlikely. Use less attractive leads, people of different ages, people with their own significant others somewhere else, siblings (I love sibling dynamics), characters with sexual preferences that don't include each other, or characters with qualities that just aren't compatible with a romantic lead (like a promiscuous character or a happy-go-lucky with no romantic overtones). The issue in fiction is the desire to make all the leads ultra-attractive, available, young heterosexuals. Breaking out of that mold in any way will help not only foster other types of relationships but can make the story stand out.

Prototype at 2:54AM, March 2, 2019

I think the problem is that the viewer or reader WANTS to see two leading character together romantically. (Like Mulder and Scully.) The author can always do what she or he wants and totally ignore the reader but usually the creator will give the fans what they want in the end.

bravo1102 at 12:24AM, March 2, 2019

Nah. A man can never be friends with a woman because he's always trying to figure out just how to get into her pants.

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