While we read romances for the love stories, we often encounter wonderful friendships, between the hero and heroine, same-sex friendships, and/or platonic friendships. Friendships are important in any romance as they add texture, depth, comic relief, and often prevent either the hero or heroine from living in isolation. Friendships are critical as well to character-based romances where plotting is secondary. Our own Laurie Likes Books, who believes Julia Quinn writes friendship better than just about any other romance author, asked her to talk about the importance of friendship.
When I started writing my first book, I didn’t have the entire plot mapped out, nor did I know everything about all the characters, but there was one thing I knew I wanted to include: a strong friendship between two women who were the same age and rank.It seemed to me that romance novels had succeeded in portraying strong male friendship, but I rarely saw strong female relationships. Encounters between women seemed to fall into the following categories:
- Our fair heroine and the dotty old aunt who is really smarter than everyone thinks.
- Our fair heroine and the innocent younger sister she wants to care for and protect at all costs.
- Our fair heroine and the trusty servant.
- Our fair heroine and the witch-villainess from hell.
Now, there is nothing wrong with these plot elements. At least I hope not, because I’ve used some of them! But it never seemed like romance heroine’s had the kind of friends I have – the women you gossip with, the women you cry with, the women you can go without seeing for 2 years, and then when you do, it’s like you saw them just yesterday.
And so I gave Emma, the heroine of Splendid, a cousin. Belle was actually prettier than Emma, and I broke a few rules by making Belle the object of the villain’s desires, not Emma. And then I had them talk about things that women talk about with each other. When Emma nearly loses her virginity, well, of course Belle is going to want to know about it, and so she practically ties Emma up until she tells all. That’s what friends do, after all.
Female friendship also plays a role in my newest book, Everything & the Moon. Victoria, the heroine, has a very real relationship with her sister. They are devoted to one another, but they tease and bicker they way I do with my sisters. When Victoria confides in Ellie that she thinks she has fallen in love, Ellie counters with, “I don’t believe that for one second.” Victoria is miffed with this response and says so, to which Ellie counters, “Who in Bellfield could you possibly fall in love with?”
With encounters like these, I wanted to show the heroine in a supportive yet teasing friendship with another woman. This makes Victoria’s situation all the more poignant when, seven years later, she is on her own and feeling very very alone. She knows what it is like to have a real friend, and it hurts all the more to be lonely.
Another type of relationship that I felt was lacking in romance novels is the platonic male-female relationship. Granted, this type of friendship is more common today than it was in 1816, but I figured it wasn’t impossible, so while I was writing Splendid, I added William Dunford to the mix. Dunford was friends with everyone, but especially Belle, and this friendship lasted through three books. In Splendid, they plot to get the hero and heroine together. Dancing at Midnight (in which Belle falls in love with John Blackwood) contains a scene which I think typifies Belle’s and Dunford’s friendship perfectly:
“Someday,” Belle interrupted in a low voice, her finger jabbing at him, “you’re going to meet the woman of your dreams, and then I’m going to make your life miserable.””Afraid not, my dear Arabella. The woman of my dreams is such a paragon she couldn’t possibly exist.”
“Oh, please,” Belle snorted. “I bet that within a year you’ll be tied up, lag-shackled, and loving it.”
Dunford leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. “I’ll take that bet. How much are you willing to lose?”
“How much are you willing to lose?”
Dunford loses this bet in Minx, of course, but not before Belle helps him out, taking his love interest under her wing and showing her London.
Finally, I have also tried to write books in which the hero and heroine actually like– one another. Nothing bugs me more than the “I hate you I hate you I hate you. . . Oh, why can’t you tell how much I love you?” sort of romance. Even in Everything & the Moon, where Robert and Victoria are furious with one another for a fair portion of the book, the groundwork for their friendship is laid in the beginning. When the fall in love, they also become friends. And so, when they forgive one another, it is believable, and the reader understands why, after so much pain, they still want to be together. The best partnerships, after all, are ones in which we can be friends as well as lovers.