I have really enjoyed writing stories that star my friends as main characters. It’s a lot of fun to read the stories out loud in a gathering and get real life reactions to my work. People generally have a great time whether they’re the hero or just a corpse in the corner of the crazy person’s basement.
In high school I used to write one or two a month during Bible Quiz trips. Everyone who went on the trip was a character in the story. It was usually a very short story in which I would put all my friends as characters that would share a name with the real life person but maybe not a lot else. My friends and I became everything from flawed superheroes to computer software icons. It was all good fun and it taught me how to write for a specific audience. I learned how to make my friends laugh or cringe with how I worded my sentences or how I chose to reveal a detail.
Recently I sat down to write another story with friends as characters and I was having a really hard time capturing the tone that I was going for. I haven’t written a successful story this way in a while. There have been attempts but nothing that I’ve been really happy with.
So what’s going on with me? Why can’t I seem to capture this type of writing right now? What am I doing wrong? Do I not know my friends anymore? Is this happening because I can’t be there? I used to write these every month! How can the skills be gone so fast?
These questions made me go back to all the old stories I’d written. Every story that I wrote in this way, I had on my computer. So I read a few and here’s what I was missing: the essence of my friends. Which is a weird thing to say and is going to take a little explaining.
(I’m changing my friend’s names for this next part because I’m too lazy to ask them if they mind I use their real names) In one story I wrote my friend Kyle was an inmate from a prison (he’s never been to jail), Jake and Mark were six years old (they were teenagers), and I was a woman in her mid thirties (I was also a teenager). This was the first story I ever wrote with friends as characters and it’s still one of my favorites.
What struck me as soon as I read it again was that these characters were almost nothing like my friends in real life. They were different ages, had different backgrounds and weird family relationships that don’t exist in real life. What made them my friends in the story were the small mannerisms that they shared with their real life counterparts. They had the same attitudes and said things that they would say in real life. They also said things they wouldn’t say in real life and did things they would never do in real life.
That’s when I figured out my problem with trying to write a story now. I was trying to be completely true to the entirety of my friends’ characters. I made them comparable ages, backgrounds, and gave them similar actions to perform. Not only did this take away from the story (most friends are friends because they get along and getting along does not make for a good story, a good story requires some kind of conflict) but it was actually distracting me from making the story fun. It’s not about capturing exactly what my friend would do in this exact situation, it’s about capturing the brief essence of who they are in the moment. My friends didn’t care about the deep, interpersonal thoughts of their character. They cared about the witty quip that’s “exactly what I would’ve said!” or the moment that’s actually so contrary to their character that it’s hilarious.
I was missing the forest looking at trees. I was missing the essence of my friend while trying to find the intimate detail. I plan on trying again soon to write a few more stories with my friends and I but I’m going to focus more on the essence of who they are.