Reveal your characters through their circle of friends
Experts say we are most like our five closest friends. I think that’s true. Our friends usually have similar interests and values as we do. Looking at someone’s friend circle can tell you a lot about them.
I’ve started using a friendship circle to track my friendships as a way to see where people belong in my life—this helps me keep clear boundaries which is something I always need to work on.
Recently, I wondered what would happen if my main character Caitlin filled this out. Who are her friends, and how do they reflect who she is to my reader? I had her fill out my friendship circle and the results really helped me get a clearer sense of who she is deep down inside.
I’ll share my experiment with you, but first a bit about how to use the friendship circle.
I recommend doing it for yourself first to get the hang of it. Then do it for your main character. And please share your results with me in the comments! Let me know if you discover anything new about yourself or your character.
Below is a diagram of a friendship circle that a friend gave me. You can make your own or contact me here or through Facebook, and I can send you mine. Use it as a guide to help you figure out where your various friends belong in your life.
Here’s a guide to my circle:
- Inner CircIe—this is your smallest group of friends. These are people who you trust to be there for you no matter what. They are your 3am people—if you had an emergency at 3 a.m., they’d be there for you no matter what.
- Second circle—a larger group of people who you consider friends but maybe you don’t share everything with them. Maybe they don’t get to know your deepest, darkest secrets. You might go to the movies or dinner or do other activities with these friends, but you might not share your most intimate self with them.
- Third circle—these are acquaintances and probably where the majority of people you know will fall. Co-workers, community members, neighbors, etc. With these people, you have warm personal regard but no emotional intimacy.
Your inner circle friends are your most important because when life gets the toughest, they will talk you off the ledge. They are also the ones who probably most closely reflect your own values.
How do you know who should be in your inner circle?
Below are some questions I ask myself when considering if someone belongs in my inner circle:
- Do they gossip about others or share personal information about others? If so, then they’re likely to share private information about me with their other friends.
- Are they reciprocal or is it all about them? When we get together, do they listen to me? Or are they always busy talking about themselves?
- Are they drama queens? There’s no room in my inner circle for drama queens!
- How do I feel after spending time with them? Do I feel energized, happy, or inspired? Or do I feel tired, down, or drained?
- Does this person have similar values to my own? What are their values?
- Do I trust them with my innermost thoughts and feelings? Here, I listen to my gut. I might share something small with them and see how they do with it. Once, I shared some personal health information via text with someone who I thought was in my inner circle. Literally, one minute later, she tried to forward my text to another person with her own comments but accidentally sent the text back to me. She was instantly removed from my inner circle. In fact, she was ejected from all my circles—clean off the page!
Write down the names of those who you think belong in your inner circle, then move on to your second circle, then your third circle.
Then look at your inner circle. Make a list of some of the values of these friends. Here’s my list from my five closest friends: caring, sensitive, compassionate, funny, kind, brave, strong, smart, light-hearted, big-hearted, loving. This lists makes perfect sense in my life because these are the qualities I value and strive for. When you make this list for your character’s inner-circle friends, you’ll learn what he/she values, too.
I do a new friendship circle once a quarter. I’ve noticed over time that people do change positions in my circles, and that’s totally okay and normal. We are constantly evolving and growing and our friendships should reflect this.
Do this exercise for yourself to get the hang of it then take a new friendship circle and have your character fill it out.
What did I discover about my character?
I was pretty shocked to discover that at the beginning of my novel, my main character Caitlin had absolutely nobody in her inner circle! She’d been deeply hurt in her past and over the ensuing years did a most fabulous job of pushing everybody—friends and family—out of her inner circle! I really was stunned and sad to discover this.
Another idea occurred to me. What if she filled out a second friendship circle at the end of the story? Would it be any different? And, how would it be different?
I was happy to discover by the end of the story she had eight people in her inner circle! This showed me—and will show my reader—how she changed for the better during the course of the story, and how she healed herself enough to be able to trust people again. I felt so happy for her! In the process of being able to trust people again—and being able to trust herself to make the right decisions—she opened herself to more of life.
By examining her friend network, I have a deeper insight into my character and now know what I need to add into her story to show her change over time.
Exercise: What does your character’s friendship circle say about them? Do the above exercise for your character at the beginning of their story and at the end of their story. If you don’t have your story or novel finished yet, no problem. You can imagine the ending. Imagine how their circle might look at the end. Then make a list of things you might want to include in your character’s story or backstory to reflect these changes.
If you find this exercise helpful, I would love your feedback in the comments below.
To see an excerpt from my story-in-progress, visit my website to see my creative work.
Friendship Circle Diagram: