Friday 9 November 2018

The five stages of friendship - a handy guide to making story friendships

Image result for Friends Kathryn cave nick maland

When I was working in Foundation and KS1, the friendships I saw in these tiny children came and went like clouds in a Summer sky. TRUE STORY: Two boys who had known each other for all of five minutes and were best friends in the morning, came wailing up to me in the afternoon, accusing each other of 'being horrible' and 'I hate you now'. They both stood there, their lips stuck out and wobbling until one of them burst into tears and said, "my Mum's going to tell off your Mum". The other boy copied him and said it back. I must have said something placatory but I might as well not bothered because nano-seconds later, they were hugging each other and inviting each other for tea.
My point is that they went through the stages of friendship in a kind of condensed version. And came out the other side. It was intense. Friendship can be intense. Age is important of course but should not define the length or depth of a friendship. Some friendships last, others not. I thought it would be interesting to take a look at those stages and see if they could help to give a deeper meaning to children's stories about friendship.

Stage 1. Strangers - I don't know who you are

I've heard some people say, "Strangers are just friends you don't know". Apart from the fact that that sentence sounds like a horrible saccharin cliche, I want to shout, "OF COURSE - how else do you start off getting to know someone; if not by not knowing someone?" It is of course a jumping off point for story.

You have to think about why you want your protagonist to get to know a stranger. Maybe it's a choice they make because this stranger is physically attractive; maybe they're forced into talking to a stranger by well-meaning relatons - "here's a child, you're a child, off you go and make friends!" or maybe your protagonist might find themselves dropped into a situation where getting to know a stranger is a matter of school survival/actual survival and in any number of situations.

“Just follow me and run like your life depends on it. Because it does.”

― James Dashner, The Maze Runner
The sort of friendship your protagonist will go on to make is dependent on a number of things but to begin with it's first impressions. These can make or break a potential friendship. Or conversely can be the beginning of deadly enmity. Pick them with care.

Stage 2. Acquaintance - I know of you

Maybe it's someone your protagonist bumps into occasionally at a club, at school, they live on the same road, a friend of a friend. Thus far there's been no reason to get to know them better until someone forces them together or engineers a meeting or there's a chance encounter as for example in Jonathan Stroud's , The Last Siege, when on the snowy slopes of a castle moat, three lonely teenagers, Emily, Sion and Marcus spend a nightmarish night which forges and then breaks friendships.
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Stage 3. Casual friend - I know you

Now we start to become friends but things can still go wrong and a friendship can be scuppered at this stage before it has the chance to blossom. Casual friends are often the bit-part actors in stories; the red-jumper characters who can be disposed of without causing too much grief or just enough grief to make your protagonist change her mind about something important or follow another path or become the shared problem for your protagonist. They should serve a purpose.

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You need a good friend when there are werewolves around
In Pamela Butchart's fantastic series about year 4 school buddies, there are a few casual friends who pop up outside of the core friendship group of Izzy and her friends. Gary Petrie who is annoying but a friend, turns out be Very Useful when it comes to solving the mystery in, There's a Werewolf in my Tent!

Stage 4. Close friend - I understand you. 

I have weathered the same circumstances as you and believe we have that in common. I believe what you tell me without too much questioning. This friendship is more difficult to break. I sometimes think it's like the 'being in a gang' kind of friendship, where you are bonded by shared difficulties and a shared purpose. Like, Just William and his gang, The Outlaws, who have constant problems with grown ups getting in the way of them having fun. What about Robin Hood and his Merry Men who must rob the rich to feed the poor and yet face constant danger from the Sherriff of Nottingham. In Tolkein's Fellowship of the Ring, friends band together to be rid of the Ring but must withstand death and danger.
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On a slightly lighter note, picture books have many friendships which reach this stage. The boy and the penguin in Oliver Jeffer's Lost and Found

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Give him a hug
Melrose and Croc - that wonderful friendship, created by Emma Chichester Clark.
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Good friends share bad times
Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel
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You might even argue that all of these friendships have gone beyond just close friends and moved on to the next stage ...

Stage 5. Soul friends

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Samwise Ganges and Frodo Baggins - soul friends

Samwise Ganges and Frodo Baggins begin as acquaintances, become close friends and finally through their shared weaknesses and strengths become soul friends.
This stage is attained over time, through shared experiences, and, most important, through vulnerability. It is through vulnerability that a friendship reaches this stage. At this level, one has shared their deepest secrets such as their biggest insecurities and their biggest fears. It is from this level of intimacy that friends become connected soul to soul, and they commit to the development of each other's character and as people. This is the stage where one is considered a true friend. The saying that embodies the spirit of this level of friendship is by Aristotle in which he states, "a friendship is one soul occupying two bodies." These individuals truly understand each other.

There are some fantastic books which reveal this most moving of the friendship stages. Harry Potter and his friendships with Hermione and Ron are tested to near destruction. Not to forget that soul friends may even be a different species e.g Five Childen and It On the Western Front by Kate Saunders - the cumudgeonly, psammead, a sand fairy who begins as a stranger and ends as a soul friend.

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Being a soul friends means that with so much gained there is more to lose. The highs are higher and the lows are lower.
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One of my favourite books about YA friendship is Keith Gray's, Ostrich Boys. A bit from near the end sums it up for me; the incredible journey and lasting effects of going through so much and sharing weakness.

Kenny coughed, trying to mask that he was crying. 'I don't want him gone. He was my best friend. I want him here ... You know all the stuff we've been through? And it's all because of him. I'm telling you: we've got the best story ever. But he missed out. He's never gonna be able to tell it'. HIs shoulders shook and he wept. Ostrich Boys by Keith Gray

You could add a couple more stages (purely for the story!) - the break-up of a friendship and the making of an enemy. As a grown up, friendship can sometimes be tricky. I can involve compromise, understanding and negotiation and sometimes things are so tricky that it can be the end of a friendship.
The same feelings can apply to children and young people.

Beware jumping the stages. Too much, too soon and a friendship can shrivel and die. Then again, maybe you have a needy, manipulative, antagonist who does this ...  you can make an enemy.

How people make friends is a wonderful theme in our work. And like writing, friendship can be

difficult and tricky. It can come easily and blow away just as easily. You often have to work at it, share the good and the bad and the little bit boring. But the rewards are life enhancing.
Yes ... well, my best friend sent me this card. Nuff said.


  1. Wow, a great post! I've only just discovered the endearing Frog and Toad. I wondee if children are aware of how ephemeral their friendship troubles are! Really enjoyed reading this.

  2. but ... but ... Addy, I thought I was your best friend?? I'll try harder *sniff*
    (great post)

    1. I am fantastically fickle and will be your best friend for cake and tea. Thanks x

  3. This is brilliant and very insightful. It could be used as a great way of creating different book characters. Thank you for posting Addy.

  4. This is fabulous. You, clever lady.

    1. Tanks, Elaine - I had a little help from my friends

  5. This is a truly fab post, Addy. It's got me thinking of loads of examples of each stage but the one that leapt to mind first was Harry recognising Malfoy for the type of friend he would be and rejecting him. Always thought that was well done. I also remember 2 boys in reception, best friends dince in their prams, boy one had been naughty boy two hadn't. Boy one blamed boy two. The look on boy two's face has never left me. He could not believe boy one had blamed him. They remained friends but it was never quite the same. Trust is important no matter how old you are.

    1. I love that Harry did that. And I also loved that Neville was able to try and stop harry when he knew he was wrong, despite being close friends. Aw! That story! Yes, trust is huge isn't it? It can make or break a friendship. But there are people I would trust (like Bear Grylls in a survival situation) but wouldn't want to be their friend. Thanks, Maureen.


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