Affection is the cornerstone of both romance and friendship.
Think about it. Romance without affection is nothing. Friendship without affection is two people hanging out together who have no reason to stick around each other. Flirting without affection? Basically just a cryptic argument.
Affection upholds both romance and friendship. It’s the glue that keeps two or more people together even though one of them is Ronan Lynch or Tony Stark or Mr. Darcy. Since both love and friendship deal with affection, we can manipulate both in the same ways. Basically, a good friendship is two inches from being a romance.
You can use any romance plot line you find as a friendship plot line. You can use any friendship plot line as a romance plot line. And whatever you choose, someone will want to write a fanfiction based on the opposite choice.
Let’s look at a classic example: Pride and Prejudice vs. The Lord of the Rings.
In Pride and Prejudice, two characters begin the story hating each other. As happens in any romance where two characters hate each other, these two characters experience a 180-degree shift of passions and fall hopelessly in love. That’s the romance subplot. Let’s shift it into friendship.
In the Lord of the Rings, Legolas and Gimli are elf and dwarf, children of races who used to be fairly Romeo and Juliet, but now have come to an agreement of glowering at one another from a distance. These two have been lumped together on a single quest, and while they each hate the other, they eventually form a bond through comraderie, combat, and competition. By the end, they’re making plans to explore caves and forests together. There couldn’t be a better pair of buddies.
Hatred turned to the opposite, sound familiar? The affection plot lines mirror each other in both stories. Pride and Prejudice, however, takes it a bit farther than The Lord of the Rings.
If you really think about it, many of the qualities of romances can be applied to friendships. According to a recent Writing Excuses episode, the general progression of a romance is denial, reluctance, exploration, and acceptance. That explains the hate-to-affection plot line fairly well. What about other facets of romances— like insta-love?
No, there is no such thing as friendship insta-love. But… yes, there is. Sometimes when you meet someone, you click so well that you know you’re in for a beautiful friendship. Is that all, though? Is that where friendship stops?
Nope. Here’s where we get to reverse the equation. In a friendship, even an insta-friendship, there has to be more. Even if you go up to someone and immediately connect over something you two have in common, the next time you meet, that won’t stay true. There has to be more of a connection than just that. What does that say for insta-love?
Yeah, it’s not enough for two characters to acknowledge mutual attractiveness. The rules of friendship work for romance, if you actually want a real romance. If you’re just looking for something shallow, go ahead and forget friendship.
Another thing I’ve heard about romances is that each side completes the other. (A person’s better half and all that.) One person needs a tempering influence, and the other needs some boldness— they lend to each other and become better people through it. One person needs one thing, which is offered by the other.
The same thing goes for friends. One person needs help on their exam, the other needs an illegal magical substance that will conquer the dragon and save the world. You know, the usual stuff. But my point stands— perhaps one person needs someone who will laugh at their jokes, or give them good advice, or give them bad advice so they can feel good about themselves. Relationships in general are about giving and taking, and friendship, in this case, is no different from romance.
If one person isn’t getting what they need from the romance, they’ll end it. Since friendships haven’t been official matters of business since third grade, people generally just drift apart when this happens. The friendship dissolves slowly as the two no longer seek each other out. The idea of giving and taking carries through both ways— when there’s nothing more to give or take, the relationship ends.
This is not a post full of rules. Friendships don’t have to follow romance plot lines, and romances don’t have to follow the rules of friends. However, they mirror each other many times. If you’re stuck on a shallow romance, try adding some more friend qualities to the mix. If you’re worried that your friendly couple is shifting too far into romance-land, even if you have nothing planned for them, don’t worry about it. People are going to ship characters all over the place, and there’s nothing wrong with a strong friendship. That’s all a romance is— a strong friendship with the promise of something more. A regular friendship doesn’t worry about something more, it just exists.
Use this as a troubleshooting idea, not necessarily as a rule. If something’s not working, see if you can find a romance or friendship that mirrors it and see what makes it work. And don’t be afraid of writing something that headcanons can blow out of proportion. That’s going to happen anyway. It’s your work that makes it count.