I’ve Got Your Back: Buddy Stories and Female Archetypes

by Scott Shields

Buddy stories date back to the beginning of literature, and they are a fantastic vehicle for writers to display their characters’ personalities.  Whether it is Gilgamesh and Enkidu, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, Laurel and Hardy, Abbot and Costello, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin, Frodo and Sam, Butch Cassidy and Sundance, or “The Dude” Lebowski and Walter Sobchak, countless male examples abound in all story genres.  Yet when looking for female versions of the classic buddy story archetype, the list becomes substantially shorter and the characters’ roles are often different than those of their male counterparts.

The first thing to consider is the moniker, “buddy story.”  The term “buddy” typically carries male connotations, yet there is really no other word in English to describe close female friendships in this way.  Women often use words like “girlfriend” or “sister” in this way, but these words are not exclusive to describing friendships, and they can carry very different connotations in other contexts.  In recent years, the abbreviation “BFF” (Best Friends Forever) has come into vogue, and this seems to be used primarily by females.  Still, no one currently talks about experiencing a “BFF story” in print or on film.  So for lack of a better term, I will stick with “buddy story” in describing tales involving two female characters on a fictional journey.

Very often, female buddies appear in comic roles.  Mistresses Ford and Page from Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor set the precedent for female friends who get themselves in and out of trouble together for the sake of a good laugh.  These character types would later appear as Lucy and Ethel in the 1950s and two decades later as Laverne and Shirley.

What is interesting here is the roles these female comics play compared to their male counterparts.  In comic roles, the male buddies usually have two roles:  the straight man and the fool.  The fool is often brunt of the straight man’s jokes or the victim of other characters’ actions.  There is also a hierarchical structure to these relationships;  one of the guys is clearly in charge, whereas the other follows orders.

This dichotomy of roles seldom exists to this extent in female buddy stories.  Instead, the women are either equal in their foolishness or they are the normal “everywoman” characters trying to overcome the foolishness of those around them (more often the idiotic men around them).  Does this suggest that audiences are uncomfortable with the notion of witnessing a woman being victimized in this way or being made to look foolish?  Or is it simply easier or more natural to cheer on female underdogs as they navigate a foolish and oppressive society together as equals (perhaps a more realistic scenario for women, historically speaking)?

Sometimes female comic roles dabble in the dramatic sphere and depict the various life stages of women.  For example, Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell portray good friends who navigate the minefields of men and romance together in the comedy Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.  Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams explore teenage friendship in the history-spoofing film Dick.  Likewise, Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion features two lifelong friends who have supported each other through the travails of adolescence and adulthood.  Cultural differences are bridged in the comedy-drama Bend It Like Beckham, as are the realities of domestic abuse in Fried Green Tomatoes.

Law enforcement, a long-standing platform for male buddy stories, has its feminine counterparts as well.  The television series Cagney and Lacey broke new ground in its portrayal of women detectives, and in the comedy The Heat, Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy play a female odd couple waging a battle against crime.  In this female cop version of The Odd Couple, Bullock’s character plays the straight role while McCarthy plays the uncouth fool.

When surveying women’s roles in dramatic films, none conjure the female buddy archetype better than Thelma and Louise.  In a picaresque story reminiscent of Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or Jack Kerouac’s On The Road (a story that mirrors many elements of Twain’s novel), two friends are brought closer together as they race west while dodging the law.  While they are on the highway, life is good.  But with every stop along the way, they find themselves getting deeper into trouble until they run out of road and there is nowhere for them to go but down.  Truly, they are BFFs to the end (or at least to the end of their steep downward journey).

The buddy story archetype has long been rich ground for writers, particularly where male characters are concerned.  Nevertheless, the list of female examples is rather sparse, comparatively speaking.  In thinking about the roles that women have in these narratives, it is striking how many films depict the female buddy archetype not so much in pairs—as is most common when the characters are male—but rather as an ensemble of female characters.  Is this because close female friendships do not exist in pairs very often in real life, or are there other factors at play?  Perhaps this will be the topic I explore in my next article.

How to Run a Writing Group: Could You Give Me a Jump?

The assorted authors on this blog belong to a writing group in Phoenix, Arizona, and we thought we would share some of our ideas and experience. This is one in a series of posts we’ve put together on The Care and Feeding of a Writing Group.

Keeping Creative Ideas Flowing

what are word for?

(Photo credit: Darwin Bell)

Many writers have a love/hate relationship with their craft. When things are going well, the creative rush propels you along effortlessly. When things are not going well, squeezing out words feels like you’re trying to pour cold molasses.

One method my writing group uses to jump-start the writing process during those inevitable dry spells is something we call “keyword exercises.” The idea is this: If someone has developed a case of creative constipation or is otherwise stuck between writing projects, we ask that they write a short piece based on a particular word. The words are usually chosen at random, and the writing could either incorporate the word directly or simply be inspired in some way by the word itself. The goal is to write at least one page about something—anything—because we think that writing something is infinitely more beneficial than writing nothing at all.

The results of these exercises are interesting to read, with the products ranging from rants about personal pet-peeves to full-blown poems or short stories. We’ve sometimes challenged each other to write material in a new genre, or we will place limits on the parameters of the piece (such as writing an entire narrative using only one-syllable words). In fact, these self-imposed limitations often elicit the most creative responses.

There are plenty of variations on these sorts of writing exercises. For example, instead of choosing words at random, we will sometimes generate lists of nouns, verbs, or adjectives and develop those words into a passage of writing. Other times, we pick words from different categories (such as character types, occupations, locations, and situations) and craft those combinations into short scenes or vignettes. Online resources such as name generators and tagline creators are also helpful for compiling these sorts of lists, and some programs will even create plot scenarios for fiction writing.

Another springboard we have used to aid our creative processes is a method inspired by the authors of The Chopin Manuscript (published in 2008). This suspense novel was a collaborative effort of fifteen thriller authors. Jeffery Deaver created the initial characters and set the story in motion, and the other authors each carried the story forward by writing the subsequent chapters. Our writing group did two renditions of this, and you can check both our first Cakepan Manuscript and second Cakepan Manuscript on our blog. 

Even for the most skilled wordsmiths, writing is seldom easy. Our writing group has been fortunate enough to find several useful exercises that have seen us through many barren seasons in the creative desert. But as one of our members likes to say, writing is a lot like pushing a stalled truck down the road. The hardest part is getting started. After that, it’s all about maintaining the momentum.

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Cakepan Manuscript – Chapter Six: Chapped and Trapped

This is a creative writing experiment, shamelessly stolen from the Chopin Manuscript: a serialized story where each author writes a different chapter. The members of this blog are each writing their own chapter, and we’re calling ours the “Cakepan Manuscript”.

You can start reading at Chapter One, which began with the premise: “An unemployed teacher, in a wine store, runs into a former student.” Each week we will post a new chapter until we reach the thrilling conclusion!

We hope you enjoy!

Chapter Six: Chapped and Trapped

The Thinker

Image by srice13 via Flickr

The insistent knocking continued. Dietrich looked at the door hesitantly, the dampness of his pants had irritated his thighs and though he had taken the wet pants off, the chapped skin glowed red under a fresh pair of boxers. No time to put on pants. The person at the door meant business.

If someone had somehow followed him from the store, he would rather deal with it sooner than later. As he moved toward the continuous knocking, he instinctively grabbed the small statue sitting on the table next to the door. Rodin’s “The Thinker” in miniature. Well, he would crack someone’s skull with it if necessary. Pee rash or no pee rash, Dietrich was a man fed up with being pushed around. He was NOT to be fucked with. Not anymore.

Without glancing through the peephole, Dietrich tore open the door brandishing the statue. He blindly took a swing and heard a meaty thud.

“Jesus D! What the hell!” Terrence stepped back grabbing his arm, a garment bag held up in front of his face in a defensive position. The Rodin statue plunged to the floor and shattered. Dietrich reeled back and shook his head. Adrenaline pumped in his veins making his breath come quickly and vision tunnel.

“My God, Terrence! I am so sorry. What are you doing here?” His brother continued to rub the spot on his arm where the statue had connected, “I brought some clothes by for your blind date. Thought you could use some hipster duds.” Terrence glanced down at his brother’s Van Gogh boxers and his chapped thighs, “I see I am just in time.”

(Read on to the thrilling conclusion…)

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Six short stories about a “gasket”

Gaskets: # o ring # fiber washer # paper gaske...

Image via Wikipedia

As part of our tinkering with this blog and the content, we’re next going to be each doing a short piece derived from the word “gasket”.  The word was Finn’s suggestion, so we’re running with it!

This exercise is something we do in our writing group to keep us writing when we hit slumps. The word just has to inspire an idea, and may not show up in the final work itself.  Sometimes there is poetry, sometimes a dialog exercise, or sometimes just a really bad pun (Shockingly: not usually from me!).   We’ve posted a few of these in the past, but never all of us posting from the same word.

We would love your feedback on the ideas we come up with over the next two weeks, and how they differ.

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Short story: Santa’s Gift

This was a scene I originally wrote for a sketch comedy group I belonged to ages ago. It was never performed, but I always liked it so dusted it off recently and converted it to a scene. It was mostly dialogue anyway.  I hope you enjoy it, and Happy Holidays!

Merry.......... christmas..?
Image by Nicolai Kjærgaard via Flickr

Inside the cozy living room of a well furnished suburban home, Harold, a tired and middle-aged man, sat in a plush chair next to the crackling fireplace with his wife, Kelly.

Bundled in a sweater, Kelly watched as snow drifted down past the window. She smiled happily and sipped from a big mug of hot chocolate. Harold, scowling morosely, took a long swig from a can of beer.

Kelly looked at her husband, glowing with contentment. “There is just something magical about Christmas Eve. Everything seems special. The air smells cleaner, the snow seems whiter, even the cold doesn’t seem so… cold. You know what I mean, Harold?”

Harold looked at Kelly and sighed. “Yeah, it’s like a storybook come to life.”

Kelly rolled her eyes. “Oh, here we go. I thought maybe you were going to skip your annual Christmas pout-fest, but I guess not.”

Harold shifted in his chair. “I just don’t like it, okay. A lot of people don’t like Christmas.”

Kelly set down her mug. “Yeah, but MOST people like Christmas. Even if you’re not Christian there’s still all the pretty lights, the decorations, the spirit of giving…”

“..the marketing, the commercialism, the fat man in the beard…”

“Santa?” asked Kelly.

“Yeah. Him.”

“You can’t not like Santa! Do you ever watch the children’s faces when they see him at the mall? It’s like magic.”

“Poor little bastards.”

Kelly threw up her hands. “Harold! Every Christmas since we met you’ve been like this and you never tell me why. It doesn’t make any sense!”

“Then just ignore me,” Harold replied, scowling. “I’ll be fine tomorrow.”

“I’m not going to ignore it this time! I want to know why this day bothers you so much.”

“You wouldn’t understand. Just trust me on this and let it go, okay?”

Kelly yawned a huge, face stretching yawn, wobbling slightly in her chair. “I wouldn’t understand? I think you would be surprised at what I… understand.” Kelly shook her head and tried to focus, but was fading fast. She tried to go on, “…but if you won’t talk to me, how can you expect me to… ohh… expect me to… Hmmm… to…”

Kelly fell back in her chair, fast asleep. Harold looked at her and grimaced.

“Oh crap, here we go. I’m gonna need a reload…” Harold reached behind his chair and came out with a fresh beer. He popped the tab and took a long drink.

From the flickering shadows in the fireplace, Santa Claus faded into view. He was the epitome of the Christmas legend, from the big sack of toys to the rosy cheeks to the jolly belly.

“Ho Ho Ho! Meeeeeerry Christmas, Harold!”, Santa bellowed.

Harold sighed. “You’re late this year, fatso.”

Santa beamed. “Sorry to keep you waiting, Harold. There’s been a lot more good boys and girls this year so I’m running a little behind”

“You could just skip our house, you know.”

“Now how could I possibly do that, my little friend?” asked Santa, reaching for Harold’s cheek to give it a pinch.

Harold knocked Santa’s hand aside as he rose from the chair. “I can always hope,” he said.

“You’re such a kidder, Harold” said Santa. “Now, let’s see what you’ve been up to this past year.” Santa pulled a phone from his jacket and punched a few buttons. “Hmmm… you’re doing pretty good this year. Definitely in the Nice column! Ho Ho Ho!”

“Lucky me.”

Santa tsked. “Although you’ve still got that surly attitude of yours. We started using a computer Child Ranking Database that automatically calculates the Naughty and Nice score for every child. Oh my, it saves us a load of time.”

“Great, even Santa is into computer surveillance these days.”

“Ho Ho! Anyway, it looks like you helped three old ladies load groceries into their car, volunteered 142 hours at an animal shelter, and turned down repeated sexual advances from Julie in Marketing.”

“I think I’m the only one who turned her down,” Harold replied, giving a small shudder.

Santa punched a button and grinned. “Oh, you aren’t far wrong on that one! Ho Ho Ho! Julie’s definitely on our Naughty list.”

“That’s just more information than I needed. Are you done now, Santa? Can I have my life back for another year?”

“You know, Harold, I just don’t understand why you are always so antagonistic. Most people would love a yearly visit from Santa Claus.”

Harold lunged towards Santa, one fist clenched, crushing his beer can in the other. “Most people don’t think you really exist! MOST people haven’t had you visiting them every year since they were seven!”

Santa smiled jovially. “That’s because you were a special boy! I still recall the first time I saw you at the mall. You wanted so badly to sit on my lap, but your mom wouldn’t hear of it. You just kept staring at me with those big, brown eyes of yours while she led you away. I said to myself, Santa, you should make a special stop for that young man.”

Harold wiped some spilled beer from his shirt. “Special? That wasn’t the word my parents used when I tried to tell them. ‘Hey mom, guess who was in our house last night? Santa Claus, complete with magic powers, big beard, smelly reindeer, the whole works!’”

“Hmmm, well, I told you to keep it a secret,” admonished Santa.

“At first it wasn’t too bad, just a pat on the head and a pitying look. Each year I thought I dreamed it, but then you showed up again the next year and I was convinced all over again. But as I got older I didn’t get pats on the head anymore. You know what I got? I got therapists! I got medication! I got fucking Santa Claus intervention!”

“Ho Ho Ho! I remember the year I had to visit you in that youth psychiatric hospital. You were a tough boy to find, young man!” Santa waggled a finger a Harold.

“There’s no hiding from Santa Claus, is there? I tried, I sure tried…”

“A different place every year there for a while, as I recall. Isn’t that when you started trying to film me?”

”Hell yeah, I wanted proof. But nooooo, Santa doesn’t show up on film.”

“And wasn’t your chimney covered in garlic one year?”

Harold looked a little sheepish. “Well, after you didn’t show up on the video tape I had a theory that maybe you were related to vampires.”

“Ho Ho Ho! That’s a good one! Still, I liked the garlic better than the years you tried to pass out drunk before I arrived. You were such a mess, I’m glad you gave that up! Do you have anyidea how hard it is to clean vomit out of this suit? Mrs. Claus was getting quite mad at you, you little rascal!” Santa winked.

“Well, how was I to know you could instantly sober me up. They never talked about THAT ability in any of the songs.”

“I mainly use that trick on the elves. Cute little guys, but can’t hold their liquor. Sometime remind me and I’ll tell you the story of the Christmas Eve Party of ’68. Ho Ho Ho!”

“Lovely. Then of course I also found out you’re bulletproof.”

“Oh my, I almost forgot about that! No, you can’t kill Santa with a semi-automatic, Harold.”

“Or a double-barreled shotgun.”

“Or a grenade. Boy, was your house a mess. I’m glad you gave that up when you met Kelly.”

“Dammit, Santa! Can’t you at least show yourself to her? If I tried to tell her about this without proof I’ll end up divorced.” Harold spread his hands pleadingly.

“Ho Ho Ho! No can do!”

“Then how about at least leaving a gift? 25 years being stalked by Santa Claus and I’ve never actually received one lousy present! Come on!”

“Now Harold, Santa exists because little children all over the world believe in him. If I left proof that I was here all that would be over.”

“Then can I at least get a ride in your sleigh for once?”

“Nope, sorry, that’s for official Christmas business only.”

“You know what, Santa?”

“What’s that, Harold?”

“Santa Claus is an asshole.”

Santa’s belly rocked as he laughed. “Ho Ho Ho! A man has to have his hobbies, even a magic one like Santa. Now give Santa one of those beers, and I’ll be on my way.” Santa reached behind the chair and took a beer.

“Don’t let the chimney hit you on the ass on the way out.”

Santa pinched Harold on the cheek, who this time didn’t resist. “You’re such a kidder, little Harold! Now be a good little boy, because Santa Claus will be watching! Bye bye, now!”

Harold watched morosely as Santa turned towards the fireplace and faded from view. As soon as he vanished, Kelly began to stir in her chair.

“… if you won’t talk to me… Hmmm… expect me to understand why you hate this day of the year so much.” Kelly looked around sleepily.

“I’m sorry, Harold,” Kelly said, getting up and stretching. “Look, I didn’t mean to fight about this.”

Harold sighed and set down his beer. “It’s okay. I’m sorry I made you upset.”

“Don’t you worry about it! Everyone in the world is entitled to their little quirks, even my Harold Goldstein.” She gave Harold a quick hug.

Harold wiped away some tears with the back of his hand. “You’re right,” he said. “Let’s go light the Menorah.”

~ end ~

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