Some great question prompts center on writing about friendship. If you are working on your autobiography, life story, or memoir, the role of friends can be pivotal. This is true not only for living a rich life (obviously) but for the narrative arc in your tale. In this article, we explore question prompts that elicit stories and then we delve into tips related to story structure. This article will help you think about the role that friendship or romantic love plays in a strong story arc.
In our professional oral history interviewing, we find that people love to talk about their hometown, growing up, dating and friendships. They light up when describing the food of home, holiday traditions, and school memories. Friendship is also one of the great themes, and here are some questions we like to ask.
1. Use these question prompts related to writing about friendship (childhood).
- Who was your best friend from childhood?
- Who was your “partner in crime” or sidekick? (Or were you the sidekick?)
- Tell me about a time you got into some mischief. What did you learn from that experience?
- Who did you date in high school?
- What did you do for fun in your youth?
- If you were to put together a mix tape, what would be the soundtrack of summer while you were in high school?
- Who was your date for any special occasions? Describe that dance or other important occasion? What happened to make it memorable, or a disappointment?
- Who was your first kiss?
- Were you befriended by any adults who became important role models in your life? What did this person or people teach you?
2. Be mindful of sensitivities around bullying, betrayal, or not fitting in.
Note: Recalling friendships and social situations might not bring up happy memories. Bullying, betrayal, and feelings of not fitting in can be a difficult part of youth. If this was the case for you or if you are asking the questions and you sense that this line of questioning is entering into painful territory, proceed with sensitivity. If your interviewee seems willing to discuss it, then listen intently and with empathy. It is okay if he or she expresses emotions.
Don’t try to suppress difficult subjects or gloss over them. There may be important lessons learned from this, and it might explain parts of this person’s personality. If, however, they try to steer the subject, respect their wishes. Be sensitive about pressing for more information. It’s okay to ask a follow-up question or to let silence hang for a while. If you are doing more than one interview, you might make a mental note and come back to this topic after more trust has been built. If the topic appears off-limits, then it’s important to respect the other person’s boundaries.
3. Question prompts related to writing about friendship (adult life).
- Who has been the best friend of your adult life?
- Who stood by you in a difficult time? Tell me about that experience.
- Who was the love of your life? (Tip: Don’t ask this question in an interview unless you know that the answer won’t be uncomfortable. We’ve learned that this question can be awkward if you spring it on someone).
- Who were the colleagues that made work fun or energizing?
- What memorable trips or outings have you taken with friends?
- Who has been your greatest mentor, and what did you learn from this person?
4. Consider story structure – Let’s geek out for a minute, shall we?
In Blake Snyder’s classic Save the Cat series of books, he shares secrets of classic storylines including one he calls, “Buddy love.” The heart of this type of story features an incomplete hero and a counterpart. It needs TWO central characters in order to work. Their worlds collide and they discover that they need each other. It can be funny, romantic, action-packed, or suspenseful. But the point is that the two characters learn that they are incomplete without each other. This is a story about two people who change each other’s lives. Oh, and it doesn’t always have to be two humans – there is a whole sub-genre of friendship stories about people and animals.
In many of these stories, the two characters can’t stand each other at first. But then something changes. They discover that the fireworks occur largely because they need each other, and that is a life-altering realization; it’s scary.
Keep in mind when writing any story that the love interest character (romantic or platonic friendship) should embody the theme of the story. In great story structure, the main character has an internal conflict that centers around a lesson to be learned. It is the love interest who shows up and helps teach this lesson. In the midpoint of the story, the two characters finally come together in some way (think, “kiss the girl” scene) though there are still obstacles to overcome. The theme should be really apparent at this point in the story. There is drama throughout the story because the relationship is threatened by something (will they or won’t they end up together?).
One great example of a human/animal friendship story is Marley & Me. It’s an autobiographical story of about 13 years with Marley, a golden retriever. In a discussion on his website devoted to the book, John Grogan looks back on his family’s time with Marley, and the lessons learned. He concludes that:
“Commitment matters. That ‘in good times and bad, in sickness and in health’ really means something. We didn’t give up on Marley when it would have been easy to, and in the end he came through and proved himself a great and memorable pet.”John Grogan, author of Marley & Me
5. Remember – you can’t make old friends.
I’ve been meaning to write about friendship for a long time and finally decided to write this article after visiting a dear friend from all through junior high and high school. René Thortnton Jr. was my prom date as a friend, although more of a crush than I admitted to myself at the time. After college, he became a professional Shakespeare actor and he was performing at the Utah Shakespeare Festival this past summer.
It had been 19 years since we had seen each other in person and I wasn’t quite sure if our friendship would be intact, but the moment we met up, we gave each other the biggest bear hug and neither of us let go for the longest time. It was the kind of hug you give someone after pandemic isolation, followed by 19 years away. Then, we shared dinner, as he met my husband and daughter and we caught up. When I saw him on stage, he commanded the audience’s attention and radiated light. My heart welled up with pride. I reflected on the importance of these friendships, and the imperative to stay in touch with people who are dear.
There is another friend with whom I’ve never lost touch. She has been a good friend since junior high, and my unwavering BFF through my whole adult life. Megan is the kind of friend who I know if I ever lost her, I would be utterly devastated. A couple of years ago, I sat down and interviewed her and we told stories of growing up. It was an unconventional interview because we were both chiming in and also because there was sooooo much laughter. Someday we will be so glad to have captured our voices together while we were still young and healthy. If we’re lucky maybe we’ll still be friends when we are old, and there will be just as much laughter.
Quotes and songs about friendship
Ben Rector’s song, “Old Friends” sums it up for me:
Cause no one knows you like they know you
And no one probably ever will
You can grow up, make new ones
But truth is there’s nothing like old friends
‘Cause you can’t make old friends
And I’ve got some good friends now.
But I’ve never seen their parents’ back porch.
I’ve also often thought about this one from Stephen King in the movie Stand by Me, “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was 12 – Jesus, did you?”
And this one by Baz Lurhmann:
‘The older you get, the more you need the people you knew when you were young.”Baz Lurhmann
Note: Lurhmann was misquoting Mary Schmich’s mock commencement speech when she said:
“Understand that friends come and go, but with a precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle, because the older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young.”Mary Schmich
Rhonda Lauritzen is the founder and an author at Evalogue.Life – Tell Your Story. Rhonda lives to hear and write about people’s lives. She believes that when you tell your story, it changes the ending., She and her husband Milan restored an 1890 Victorian in Ogden. She especially enjoys unplugging in nature. Check out her books: How to Storyboard, and Every Essential Element. Most recently she was the writing coach of bestselling author, Rob A. Gentile, who wrote Quarks of Light, A Near-Death Experience: What I Saw That Opened My Heart