(guest post by Gail Ward Olmsted)
Oxford Languages defines a friend as “a person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection.” Whether they are portrayed as the long-suffering sidekick, the compassionate care-giver or even the rival for a new job or love interest, friendships are frequently on display in television and film. Where would Lucy be without Ethel? Thelma without Louise? Mary without Rhoda?
In literature, the bonds of friendship are often the primary or underlying theme of the story. Well-known friendships between women include Lila and Elena in My Brilliant Friend, sisters Celie and Nettie in The Color Purple, Elizabeth Bennet and Charlotte Lucas in Pride and Prejudice and of course, Lena, Tibby, Carmen and Bridget in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.
Dialogue between fictional friends can reveal hidden secrets, fears, hopes and dreams, without the need for a load of inner dialog, which let’s face it, can get pretty boring. A well-written friendship also gives the writer a chance to show how compassionate or kind or, at times, delusional the main character is. Crotchety or quirky characters are somewhat transformed, or at least made more likable, when a best friend is part of the story.
I am a writer working on my 6th novel. My main characters are all women of different ages and backgrounds, some educated, some not. Some are mothers, others are not. Married, single, divorced and widowed- on the surface, my characters appear to have nothing in common. But there is at least one thing that unites them- they are all privileged to enjoy the benefits of close friends.
My historical novel Landscape of a Marriage will be published on July 29th. My main character is Mary Perkins Olmsted, wife of renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. Although Mary was very much in love with her husband during the 44 years of their marriage, I invented a fictional best friend for her. Anne is the wife of Fred’s business partner and frequently provides a shoulder for Mary to cry on, a heart for Mary to take comfort in and an ear to make certain that Mary is heard.
Anne serves as both the devil’s advocate when Mary is venturing down the wrong path and the cheerleader when she needs to believe more in herself. At one point in the story, Mary implores her husband to repair a riff with Anne’s husband. “Not for the sake of the business”, she begs him. “But for the sake of my friendship with Anne.”
If the Covid-19 pandemic has taught me anything, it is just how much I value my friends. Gone (for now) are the coffees in the cafes, the bi-weekly lunches and the weekends highlighted by a dinner party or potluck supper. In their place are phone calls, FaceTime sessions and Zoom get-togethers. Early on last spring, my friend Sandi suggested a weekly phone call every Thursday at 1pm and despite our schedules, which can still get crazy at times, more often than not we honor that appointment. We talk about our jobs, our families, friends in common, books we have read and shows we have binged on. I usually end each call by thanking Sandi for prioritizing our friendship. We schedule other things that are important, so why not a phone call with a dear friend? My friend Lisa and I talk the last Monday of every month at 7pm. I block off my evening, knowing that we will spend 2-3 hours discussing our lives and, at least in our minds, solving all of the problems in the world. We make time to chat and text in between these marathon talk-fests, but those nights are sacred.
If you’re a fiction writer, be sure to give your characters the gift of friendship. If you are a reader, look for cues into the protagonist’s character by seeing how they treat their friends. And most of all, reach out by phone, text, email or snail mail and tell your friends far and wide just how much you love them. It will make all of the difference in the world.
19th century novelist Charles Dicken probably said it best. “Friendship? Yes, please.”
Gail Ward Olmsted was a marketing executive and a college professor before she began writing fiction on a fulltime basis. A trip to Sedona, AZ inspired her first novel Jeep Tour. Three more novels followed before she began Landscape of a Marriage, a biographical work of fiction featuring landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, a distant cousin of her husband’s, and his wife Mary. For more information, please visit her on Facebook and at GailOlmsted.com.