Frenemies are the staple for conflict-packed stories. It’s a relationship dynamic that runs the gambit of emotions. It’s the subtle barbs of a disgruntled coworker. It’s the lingering sad but quietly malevolent vibe of a jilted ex-lover. And it’s the deliberate backstabbing of a fair-weather friend.
Frenemies of every kind are particularly popular in teen character creation, but they’re nothing new to writers. Jane Austen played off the dynamic notion of an enemy masquerading as a friend in several of her novels. Just think of the complicated relationship between Isabella Thorpe and Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey.
How do people with common interests, who run in the same work and/or social circles, manage to cross the line?
Well, it usually begins with some level of self-interest. The corresponding behaviors range from the annoying to the pathological. This type of character plays a major roll in the project I’m working on this fall. My lead character, Jade, is a frienemie to her ex-boyfriend’s new girl with disastrous results for everyone.
Here are some of the character categories where you often find a frenemy lurking:
Me, Myself and I Friend:
This frenemy just has no real interest in others. Their world view has room for one star in the sky and they are it! It’s not so much that they want to hurt others, it’s just that others aren’t as smart, as dedicated, as driven, or as worthy of success as they are. They are single-minded and hard working; they win small and large contests with all the commitment of a world class athlete.
Personal Motto: Good things come to those who hunt them down and kill them with a big stick.
The Roller Coaster of Doom Friend:
They’re up, they’re down, and they’re lost. They’re looking for others to pity them, clutch their hands in support, and show them the way. Of course, once directed to a suitable path, they will still go the other way and cause chaos. This frenemy’s prickly and unpredictable nature means they require constant attention.
Personal Motto: What have you done for me lately?
Green Meanie Friend:
Jealousy’s glow is an ugly shade on anyone, but this frenemy is sporting some shamrock colored karma that demands some redecorating. At the core of envy is low self-esteem and a dose of greed. They want the other person’s success so badly they can taste it. And they resent and denigrate their friend’s accolades with growing malcontent. The Green Meanie doesn’t understand why success proves so elusive, unless their friends are sabotaging them. Paranoia and conspiracy theories are the Green Meanie’s true BFFs.
Personal Motto: Blowing out another person’s candle will make mine brighter.
Humans Are Stepping Stones Friend:
The path to success is paved with the discarded hulls of others. These frenemies are the first to wrangle an invitation to the party and the last to help with the clean up. They are often charming, attractive and know how to work any social situations like a public relations pro. They gravitate toward money and power, always realigning themselves with new friends for maximum gain.
Personal Motto: Life is a journey, and I arrive first and in style.
Most Valuable Player Friend:
Walking in the spotlight feels good, and it’s okay if a little light bleeds ever so gently onto others and long as the MVP hogs the focal point. MVP don’t mind if friends own a much smaller spotlight or if they’re successful in another area of the shared social web. But friends should never go head -to-head with the MVP on home turf, it will not end well.
Personal Motto: I play to annihilate, because he/she who dies with the most trophies, press clippings, and awards wins.
Love Lunatic Friend:
Stupid in the name of love, friends fall by the wayside when the object of this frenemy’s affections beckons. Likewise, their love is always the one true affection, whereas their friends get mocked for their silly crushes. No one can equal the scope of the Love Lunatic’s passion, save Romeo and Juliet of course. That pair is ideal in all things. This frenemy will only return to the fold once love has gone awry. In lost love’s melancholy stage, they will demand everyone’s full attention, until the next true love comes along.
Personal Motto: Love triumphs all, until it doesn’t!
The Grand Schemer Friend:
This frenemy knows just what they’re doing. They’ve learned the art of how befriend and betray at Machiavelli’s knee. They get close fast and study their prey from every angle. When they strike, it is without warning and for maximum suffering. If they are really good at being bad, they might even convince the injured party to apologize.
Personal Motto: Sometimes you need to lose a battle to win the war.
Young adult fiction is positively bursting with frenemies. Using many means (gossip, slander, blackmail), these characters advance their campaigns of self-promotion at any cost. Throwing in a frenemy character never fails to create some extra tension in a group.
Have you ever written a frenemy relationship? If so please share your experience.