As many protagonists run through the drama of whatever plot they are trapped in they get help from friends. Mostly because they need it and without those friends the story would come to a screeching halt as the protagonist curls up into a little ball on the floor and cries for three chapters.
I was wondering the other day whether it was more interesting when the protagonist meets new people and becomes friends with them or when the protagonist hooks up with an old friend who helps them.
New friends can certainly be interesting. We get to know this new character with our protagonist and it makes sense when the protagonist asks them questions about them and so we get to find out all sorts of interesting things about the character. We also don’t know if this character is going to betray the protagonist later because they’ve only just met and the protagonist doesn’t know whether they are being lied to or not, they have no earlier encounters to judge them by.
However, that is also the downfall of new friends. There is no natural rapport between the protagonist and this new person and you have to get them to know each other fast if you want to move the story forward. If the protagonist doesn’t ask them certain questions it leaves the reader wondering why not. If you ran into someone in a dungeon you would ask them why they were there even if they were helping you. If that person avoided the question you should certainly have some doubts about them. The other problem with introducing new friends is that some times it just feels too convenient. Oh, the protagonist got themselves caught in a trap. Along comes a helpful person who just wants to see them get on their way. Oh, and they’ll travel with the protagonist because they don’t have any kind of life of their own that is being interrupted by this.
So we look at old friends. Someone the protagonist has known forever. They have a reason to stand by the protagonist and help them out. They have a natural rapport with the protagonist and they can be helpful in revealing past exploits that we may not have otherwise found out about. Old friends can help fill in back story we may not be able to include otherwise and they allow us to see a fuller picture of the protagonist.
Yet old friends come with baggage and issues and they may distract from where you want to the story to go. They may not have the skills needed to actually help the protagonist out. The protagonist may be somewhere they’ve never gone before and running into someone they know would be slightly suspicious. Plus, it is harder to naturally slip in facts about the old friend because the protagonist would feel the need to ask them what they’ve been up to if they spoke to them the day before.
Which do you prefer? Introducing someone new to your protagonist or drawing someone from their past to help them out?
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