Writing About Friends

FriendsSooner or later most of us want to write stories about people who are or were special to us. These stories may be free-standing tributes, or you may include friends as characters in memoir stories. Some such stories work better than others. In fact, as much as I hate to say this, some can be downright boring, the exact opposite of what we intend. The boring stories are generally limited to an account of things you did together, which makes the story more about your experience than the friend.

While it’s perfectly fine to write about shared experiences, it takes more to define a relationship. Use these tips to write glowing tributes that will help readers love your friends as much as you do.

Give examples of what makes the person special to you.
If you say only that “Joan was a wonderful friend,” we have no idea what that means. Tell us what Joan did that set her apart, how she went above and beyond. Did she have a special sense of humor that always lifted your spirits? Was she one of those people who always shows up with chicken soup when someone is sick?

Season with feelings.
Embed reports of how you feel about this person, what emotions he or she evokes. Use specific actions or conversations to give context to these reports.

Add some action.
Yes, this is another way of saying, “Show, don’t tell.”

Include some quirks.
Make your friend real with quirks that set her apart. Does she laugh too loud? Compulsively rearrange a dishwasher after someone else loads it? Is his desk a disaster?

Dramatize with dialogue.
Dialogue is one area of writing where clich├ęs and jargon are welcome, in moderation. Let the way your friend speaks add color to your portrait.

Seek input from others.
When you write about people dear to you, you become immersed in a holographic memory of events, experiences, and the reality of that person. You may not realize that you’ve left out key details like what the person looks like and similar things.

Make preliminary notes.
While it often works well to simply start writing, for a special tribute planning can help. Use a pen and paper to jot down a few thoughts as you pause to ponder

  • What does this person mean to you?
  • How does she make you feel?
  • What does she do to make you feel this way?
  • What is sets this person apart and makes him special, in general and to you in particular.
  • What do you want the reader to understand about this person?

Crystalize your answers into terse statements. For example for “How does she make you feel?” you may write, “treasured, valued, understood.” When you draft your final story, include the thoughts you’ve uncovered this way to make your story glow with heart-warming energy.

Write now: write a short tribute to a special friend or someone who has been helpful and inspiring to you. Use the points above to flesh it out. Then send a copy to your friend.

Image credit: Stu Seeger. Cropped image shared under Creative Commons license.


marian beaman said...

This timely post comes as I am fleshing out the characters (friends and relatives) in my memoir draft. Dramatizing with dialogue and including quirks are two of the tips that I hope will make my "characters" three-dimensional. Another tip: Abolishing passive voice. Unless needed for effect, passive voice sounds weak to me.

Sharon Lippincott said...

Thanks for that additional power tip Marian. That point can't be emphasized enough!

Donna Barker said...

This is great advice, Sharon! I was teaching a course last week (unrelated to writing) and one of the participants googled me while I was talking (a 60-something man, who should have known better!). He found my websites and at lunch told me he'd been wanting to write his life story for years but didn't know where to start.

My glib answer was, "put butt in chair and pen to paper," but my thoughtful one was to start by writing about one clear experience with a friend or lover. And to write it as a letter to that person.

Sometimes, when I find it hard to write a personal essay, I step back and put the focus on another person in the story rather than myself. Works like a charm.

Sharon Lippincott said...

Oh Donna, I love your advice about starting to write with a letter to a friend about one class experience. Beautiful. And focusing on someone else rather than yourself — magical. I'll bet this helps shift your perspective, which will always deepen the story.

Thank you for sharing these powerful insights.