Friends, Allies, Adversaries, and Enemies
By Claudia Blood
A writer friend asked if I’d ever heard of The Virgin’s Promise by Kim Hudson. It’s the arc for characters that stay home, but still learn to fulfill their dreams.
One of the suggestions for ordinary world stories was to give your main character friends, but not allies. That made me pause. Did I really understand the difference? In the US, everyone is a friend. My kids were taught in pre-school to call everyone in the room a friend. But, obviously the whole room of kids weren’t their friends.
So what’s the difference between a friend and an ally? An adversary and an enemy?
Doing a little Googling was, for once, not useful until I stumbled across an article geared toward executives and the importance of getting relationships right. Here’s how it fits in my head.
An acquaintance is someone that you know a bit. There may be mild like to mild dislike, but you don’t interact very often. This is the admin you see once a month to give a report. You may have a mild dislike because he’s unpleasant.
A friend is someone who likes you. When given the choice, they’ll do what they can to support you. Their actions will be based on their opinions and bias about what is best for you. The relationship isn’t conditional on shared or related goals. Friends are in your corner, true, but may not have the skills, insight, or connections to help with your goals. Most friends are good for status quo, but if you try to change the norm or if you change, the friend’s status may change as well, and slide down to acquaintance or even adversary status.
An ally is in your corner because it’s in their best interest. They don’t hold any ill will or goodwill toward you as a person. This relationship is conditional. You are aligned by common or related goals. They may have the skills, insight, or connections to help you reach your goal or are using you for your skills, etc. Once that alignment is gone however, unless you have converted them to a friend, they are no longer an ally. They would slide down to acquaintance level. And if your goals become cross-purposed, they can slide down further to be an adversary. Think of that professor who is so helpful to his student while they are doing research together, but once the student graduates, the professor no longer has time for them.
An adversary isn’t in your corner because it’s not in their best interest. This relationship is also conditional on circumstances that make goals cross-purposed. They don’t hold any ill will or goodwill toward you as a person. They can be converted to allies if you can align goals and to an enemy if they start harboring ill will to you.
An enemy isn’t in your corner at all, and further, they just doesn’t like you. When given the choice, they’ll do what they think will undermine you. Your goals may or may not align. Unless you can figure out the underlying reason someone doesn’t like you, it will never change. And even if you do find that reason, the relationship may not change.
As we put our characters through challenges give them allies, friends, and adversaries to deal with along the way. As your character or character’s goals change, use this relationship fluidity to add a layer of conflict. Or have your character make a mistake about their relationships. Have them call an ally a friend and see what happens when their goals no longer align.