[Note from Frolic: We’re so excited to welcome author Sonya Lalli to the site today. She’s talking all things best friends in romance. Take it away, Sonya!]
Whether you’re reading a classic romance novel, or watching your all-time favorite romantic comedy on Netflix, chances are the leading lady has a best friend. Elizabeth Darcy has her big sister Jane. Meg Ryan’s character in You’ve Got Mail has her lovely staff members at The Shop Around the Corner. Best friends are often essential in a good romance because they serve both our heroine and the story. Scenes with the best friend reveal depth of character, because when are we most ourselves if not with our best friend? Main characters also confide in their best friends about their thoughts about and feelings for the love interest, and in return, best friends ask tough questions that can help propel our leading lady in the right direction.
But best friends have the risk of being one dimensional and exist only in plot and character to serve the heroine’s journey. In The Holiday, Kate Winslet’s character is still pining over her ex-boyfriend and gets a talking to by the spritely Hollywood veteran next door:
Iris, in the movies we have leading ladies and we have the best friend. You, I can tell, are a leading lady, but for some reason you are behaving like the best friend.
This is a memorable quote that likely inspired many fans to have more agency in their own lives. But it also goes to show that best friends are often just thought of as mere sidekicks. They don’t necessarily have their own goals, flaws, or a fully fleshed out back story.
While the main focus of a romantic comedy is always the main character’s love story, if it has a one- dimensional best friend, that might also lead to a one-sided friendship. The best friend is always there for our heroine, but shouldn’t our heroine be there for her closest pal, too?
Lately, when I read or watch a romance, half the time I am just as obsessed with the heroine’s best friend as I am with her love interest. Yes, of course I love the swoony build-up to the inevitable romantic relationship, and all the tension, obstacles, or rewards that draw me to the genre in the first place. But I find that when our main character has a really dynamic, engaging friendship, it makes her journey – and the romantic payoff at the end – all the more meaningful. It reflects real women of the world, like me, whose love stories don’t occur in a social vacuum. It occurs in the context of our wider lives, and if we’re lucky, that includes one or several really, really good friends.
Women are social, dynamic creatures who don’t spend every waking minute waiting for that special someone. Less so now with COVID, but we spend our free time hanging out with the girls being silly, sending each other memes on Instagram, or confiding with one another about our hopes and dreams. We are being weird and ourselves and having a grand old time.
One Day in December by Josie Silver is perfect example of how a wonderfully-drawn friendship can enhance a novel. In fact, Laurie’s close friendship with her best friend Sarah is the romantic obstacle. Laurie had one of those love-at-first-sight moments on the bus, but never saw the guy again until Sarah introduced him as her boyfriend.
Jasmine Guillory’s books are another great example. Yes, they are romances, but all of her main characters have friends that absolutely leap off the page. That’s probably why Jasmine’s books are largely companion novels to each other, and her subsequent books often feature characters who showed up as best friends in her earlier books.
And, of course, I can’t forget Talia Hibbert. Her latest and forthcoming novel takes turns featuring the charming Brown sisters. In the first book Get a Life, Chloe Brown, Chloe is chronically ill and her fun-loving sisters Dani and Eve are there for her throughout Chloe’s romantic journey. You can really tell how much these sisters care about each other. It makes the book that much more thoughtful and wonderful to read.
In writing my own books, it has also been important for me to create heroines that have close friendships with women who are on journeys of their own. In my debut The Matchmaker’s List (2019), Raina is under a lot of pressure to have an arranged marriage and her childhood best friend Shaylee is there for her, but the support of her friendship is complicated by the fact that they both have busy jobs and Shaylee is planning a wedding of her own.
In Grown-Up Pose (2020), Anu finds herself lost at the age of thirty, after having married and had a child young and always following the “good Indian girl” path. She relies on her two best friends throughout her journey: Jenny, the serial dater who is finally looking for someone serious, and Monica, who is struggling with the consequences of having married someone her family disapproved of. All three women face their complications together, and above all else, tell one another the truth – even if they don’t always want to hear it.
Around the time I was thinking about my third book, my husband and I had moved to a new city where I didn’t know many people. It was very disheartening to have most of my friends live so far away and to never have social plans. But I quickly realized that if I wanted to make new girlfriends, I had to take the initiative and go out and make them.
Honestly, it kind of felt like dating. I went to book clubs, fitness classes, industry events, and Meetups. My husband and I joined a downhill skiing club. I even tried Bumble BFF. But even when I did click with someone new, it was hard to escalate that fun social encounter to a friendship both of us felt was worth the time and effort. Without having a history together on which to base a friendship, it was easy for potential friends to remain acquaintances or a friendly stranger.
Over time, I did make some fabulous new friends. But my experiences got me thinking that I wasn’t alone. The more I talked to people about it, the more I realized that a lot of us have difficulty creating new, genuine friendships as an adult. People are busy with their own lives, families and friends they already have. It’s only when someone has a change of circumstance, like moving to a new city, are we really forced out of our shell.
Friendships are such an influential, positive part of our lives, and my experience made me want to write a book about a woman struggling to make new friends. I love romantic comedies about someone finding a new partner. I thought: why not write a romantic comedy about someone finding their new best friend?
In my new novel Serena Singh Flips the Script, we follow Serena Singh, who is thirty-six years old and has always been a bit of a rebel. When her best friend and newly-married sister Natasha announces she’s pregnant, Serena realizes that she’s spent so much time focusing on her high-powered career in advertising, that she has lost touch with all her other friends – most of them who now have families and are also too busy to see her.
And so begins Serena’s journey to find a new best friend. The book hits a lot of the romantic comedy notes. Serena goes on friend dates that are absolute disasters, and when she finally meets the lively Ainsley, who has real potential to be a close friend, at first Serena’s own biases on marriage and motherhood get in the way. Of course, like any good romantic comedy, Serena has her own romantic journey, too! A love triangle with a new flame and The One Who Got Away? Let’s just say, I had as much fun writing this book as I hope you do reading it.
About the Author:
Sonya Lalli is a romance and women’s fiction author of Indian heritage. Her books have been featured in Entertainment Weekly, NPR, Glamour, The Washington Post, CBC, The Toronto Star and more. Her debut novel The Matchmaker’s List was a Target Diverse Book Club Pick, Cityline Book Club Pick, and Apple Best Book of the Month. Grown-Up Pose (2020) was a Globe and Mail national bestseller and Amazon Best Book of the Month. Her latest novel, Serena Singh Flips the Script, publishes in February 2021.
Serena Singh Flips the Script by Sonya Lalli, out February 16!
Serena Singh is tired of everyone telling her what she should want–and she is ready to prove to her mother, her sister, and the aunties in her community that a woman does not need domestic bliss to have a happy life.
Things are going according to plan for Serena. She’s smart, confident, and just got a kick-ass new job at a top advertising firm in Washington, D.C. Even before her younger sister gets married in a big, traditional wedding, Serena knows her own dreams don’t include marriage or children. But with her mother constantly encouraging her to be more like her sister, Serena can’t understand why her parents refuse to recognize that she and her sister want completely different experiences out of life.
A new friendship with her co-worker, Ainsley, comes as a breath of fresh air, challenging Serena’s long-held beliefs about the importance of self-reliance. She’s been so focused on career success that she’s let all of her hobbies and close friendships fall by the wayside. As Serena reconnects with her family and friends–including her ex-boyfriend–she learns letting people in can make her happier than standing all on her own.