“A friendship is hard to explain. It’s not something you learn in school. But if you haven’t learned the meaning of friendship, you really haven’t learned anything.”
— Muhammad Ali
Call it fondness, or like, but the love shared between friends is one of the most important aspects of creating a realistic character. It also one of my favorite relationship dynamics to read and write!
Affection: a gentle feeling of fondness of liking for someone or something.
I’m attributing this emotion to friendship because I think the feeling shared between friends isn’t the same as romantic love or the love shared between family members — even though you can love friends as much or more than you love your family. Affection is important. The bond between friends is special and that relationship can be as pivotal to your character’s growth as any other. It can also make your character feel connected to others and will also make your reader feel connected to your character. But before you get started, you must first decide if your character is affectionate, or seeking affection.
How to write a character that is seeking affection.
This character is essentially your lonely character acting out because they’re starved for affection. An affection starved character may develop or exhibit behaviors that signal this deprivation.
Lack of emotional control.
Everyone has their emotional moments, but your affection starved character will find it difficult to control any of their emotions. They swing from happy, to angry, to anxious to sad with little to no provocation.
They may also find id difficult to recognize honest and real emotions from others. Honest emotion will be seen as fake, suspect, or just unrecognizable to them. If they have never had this emotional behavior modeled for them in a healthy way, they may not be able to identify social norms — whether they’re negative or positive. This often translates as a lack of empathy which leads to conflict between your attention starved character, they will need to have proper emotional responses displayed for this in a way they recognize.
Isolation and conflict.
Your attention starved character will often show that deficit in the relationships they do or don’t have. If they seem to be in constant conflict with others or if they never interact with others because they self-isolate, these are signals that they are starved for affection. Self-isolation can lead to them struggling with social skills, frustration, and sometimes unfocused anger if left unchecked. This symptom can also manifest in characters who were well liked and then after experiencing a trauma, they self-isolate because they feel on one understands them or can relate to them. This sort of character needs someone to step forward and say, “me too.”
Affection starved characters are often extremely insecure. They become hyper defensive. They see an attack in every interaction. They will often withdraw from social groups to avoid ridicule and social conflict. This affection starved character can be a loud and proud misfit who points out the inadequacy of others as a reason why they feel ostracized, and while these claims may have validity, it can still result in harmful insecurity.
This character may also go out of their way to assimilate. In an effort to fit in, they may take on the characteristics of their bullies or abusers. This character often needs a wake up call; a heartfelt outpouring of emotion from a real friend, or a sucker punch from the group that they re-imagined themselves to become a part of pushes them out again. Either way, this character needs a hard lesson in how to properly navigate friendships and the feelings that should be shared between friends.
This insecure, affection starved character may also push themselves on others. By forcing their affections on someone, they are acting out the affection the want to receive. This also falls under lack of empathy because they don’t consider the possibility that the recipient may not want this affection. This sort of interaction can go one of two ways. They could befriend someone who’s adept at creating boundaries, and shows them how to give and receive affection while taking in the wants and needs of others. Or they get their heart broken and that need transforms into anger, resentment, and vindictiveness.
Choose your adventure!
How to write affectionate characters:
Often (read: too often) we portray affectionate characters as needy or clingy — the girl who keeps throwing herself at a guy who is only mildly interested in her or the nerd leaning in for a kiss from a someone who doesn’t know that they exist. This more accurately describes an affection starved character. I think this happens because affection is often displayed physically, which is not the only way it can be conveyed. Here are some realistic ways to write an affectionate character:
Have them tune in to the needs of others.
This is all about love language, and yes, that extends to friendships as well. If you’re writing a new friendship, have them try different ways to relate to their new friend until they land on one that works and solidifies their bond.
Say it out loud.
Misunderstandings and conflict often sprout from words left unsaid. An affectionate character would never hesitate to share positive thoughts and feelings with people they care for because they assume they already know. They would make those thought sand feeling plain and clear.
Communicate with touch.
Physical touch is most definitely a wordless way for your affectionate character to express care, concern, and love for the ones they care about. Just make sure the recipient is receptive to this form of affection. Remember: consent is sexy!
Have them dedicate time and undivided attention to the object of their affection.
Life is busy and for characters on the page, it’s easy to focus on the things that seem more important to the plot. But slowing down the pace to show the reader heartfelt moments with the people they care for and who care for them presents a well-rounded character in a living, breathing world.
Have them say thank you.
Your affectionate character won’t hesitate to acknowledge that others do for them and express gratitude. They would also express gratitude for the qualities they admire in the people closest to them — especially when it’s something your affectionate struggle with.
Make them kind.
Like the hopeful character, just being kind to the people they care for shows affection — especially when they person on the receiving in seems to be undeserving. Your kind, affectionate character will know that they’re acting out and this is a time for kindness and not to be reactionary.
Celebrate the joys and be there for the hard times. Baring witness to the good things and helping someone through the bad things in the lives of the people they care for is something your affectionate character will do instinctually. They live by the idea that if you don’t have someone to share your successes and failures with, did they even happen? Do you even exist?
Side note: I referenced The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman more than once. This relationship book has proven to be invaluable for my writing as a reference text. You should definitely grab a copy!
A simple demonstration of affection can create a variety of reactions in your characters and your reader. Whether it’s pleasure, embarrassment, annoyance, or disgust, your character‘s response to affection can say a lot about the gaps in their development that when addressed, can lead to to growth!