Relationships are the basis for most stories. Whether it’s family ties, a love interest, a beloved animal, bonds of companionship, or the protagonist’s relationship with the antagonist, the theme of how characters relate to one another is a crucial element. A story with no relationships is like an omelette without eggs.
For me, the most compelling relationships in stories are friendships. Maybe it’s because close friendships have always played a pivotal role in my own life, but there’s something about a firm bond between characters that makes me root for them all the more. Most of my favourite works of fiction have close friendships at their centres. Fitz and the Fool. Frodo and Sam. Holmes and Watson. Locke and Jean. Harry, Ron, and Hermione. Sara and Becky. The Doctor and his companions. Lyra and Will. Buffy, Willow, and Xander. The list could go on and on, and I’ll probably think of several more after I’ve posted this. (Double points for anyone who knows all those references…)
Friendships play an important role in my own writing, although I think that’s more true of my novel-length pieces than short stories. There’s less time to develop relationships in a short story, and friendships are complex, nuanced things. It takes space to show the depth, history, and loyalty between two (or more) characters. Frodo and Sam’s friendship would have a lot less meaning were it condensed into 5000 words. I’m not even sure you could scratch the surface of Fitz and the Fool in that space. In fact, all but one of the examples above come from multiple-book series (if you count The Lord of the Rings as a trilogy) or lengthy television franchises. Maybe it needs to take that long to develop a meaningful bond between characters. Something you can care about, cry about, pile all of your hopes into. Friendships are what get us through the tough times. In fiction, friendships are often what get characters through the final hurdle. It’s about the strong characters being able to rely on others and the steadfast loyal characters being there regardless of what the protagonist is about to face.
Maybe I’m a sap, but that stuff inspires me like little else. When it comes down to it, that’s surely what’s really important in life. Is that why it’s such an enduring theme in good storytelling?