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Friends: Trifecta

By Michael Schilf · February 12, 2010

Friends are supporting characters with whom your hero shares a mutual bond of affection, sometimes stemming through shared history, family relations, or romance.

For the screenwriter, understanding supporting characters is indispensable. And even though there are a multitude of supporting roles, illustrated here are three types of Friend roles frequently used in stories.

MENTOR

Every student deserves to be treated as a potential genius. – Anton Ehrenzweig

The mentor is an experienced and trusted advisor. If experience is the greatest teacher, then the mentor is the master professor. He has been through what the hero is going through, maybe many times, and he has succeeded and possibly failed in the past, but he is too old to go through it again alone, or the task at hand is bigger than anything he’s taken on before, and our hero has more potential than the mentor ever did. 

Essentially, the mentor is a coach, and the hero is his highly talented but undisciplined student. The mentor has the power to help the hero avoid problems and pitfalls along the way, but often the hero won’t listen, or the mentor sees the greater wisdom in allowing the hero to figure things out on his or her own. 

Most mentors are positive guides for the hero, however, mentors can also create conflict for the hero by getting jealous, refusing to help, withholding information, giving wrong information, resenting the hero, or compromising the mission. 

Mentors in film:

Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guiness), the exiled Jedi Knight in Star Wars (1977).

Mr. Kesuke Miyagi (Pat Morita), Daniel Larusso’s sensei in The Karate Kid (1986).

Bruce Pandolfini (Ben Kingsley), the master chess teacher in Searching for Bobby Fisher (1993).

Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), the captain of the Nebuchadnezzar in The Matrix (1999).

Gandalf (Ian McKellen), the wizard who aides Frodo in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001).

BEST FRIEND
A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out. – Anon

The best friend is the hero’s confidant, always there in a pinch, ready and willing, but not always able to help. Often the best friend is there simply to listen and provide moral support.

But the best friend can also take on a larger role and become involved in the main through line of the action as he or she goes along the journey with the hero. But even though the best friend usually means well, he or she will often inadvertently mess things up for the hero. 

Occasionally, the best friend will feel threatened by the hero and purposely create conflict by giving bad advice, being jealous, pushing the hero away from the goal, or trying to stop the hero from growing or changing.

Best Friends in film:

Dragline (George Kennedy), fellow prison mate in Cool Hand Luke (1967).

Jimmy (Robert De Niro), fellow mob gangster in Goodfellas (1990).

Red (Morgan Freeman), fellow inmate in The Shawshank Redemption (1994).

Charles (Paul Bdettany), fellow Princeton student and Nash’s roommate in A Beautiful Mind (2001).

Jack (Thomas Haden Church), Miles’ soon-to-be-married actor friend and college roommate in Sideways (2004).

LOVER

At the touch of a lover, everyone becomes a poet. – Plato

The lover is the hero’s love interest in the story. Not every hero has a love interest or wants one, nor should every story find a way to force a lover into the plot. However, when a lover fits well into the story, he or she often becomes the hero’s security. And due to this safe emotional place, it is common for the hero to tell the lover his or her most private and vulnerable thoughts and feelings: sometimes to vent, sometimes to share doubts and fears, and sometimes simply to sit in silence and be understood. 

Remember that opposites attract, and putting opposite personalities in an intimate relationship can become a potent recipe for conflict, which is great material for the writer. But a lover’s role is not always based from a romantic or sexual nature, and he or she can come in many different forms: as a child, a parent, even a pet. 

And like the other friend roles, lovers can also create obstacles for the hero by presenting an ultimatum, misunderstanding something, or getting caught by the bad guys.

Lovers in film:

Adrian Pennino (Talia Shire), the quiet pet story clerk in Rocky (1976).

Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), Indy’s spirited, tough former lover in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981).

Dorothy Boyd (Renee Zellweger), the single mother in Jerry Maguire (1996).

Mark Loring (Jason Bateman), the unhappily married and soon to be adopting father in Juno (2007).

Paul Martel (Olivier Martinez), the Frenchman that Connie Sumner begins an adulterous fling with in Unfaithful (2002).