I’m writing a book about someone very close to the main protagonist going missing. I started writing it with the character already missing, but I’m worried that the relationship between the two characters isn’t established enough to make the character’s disappearance have a huge impact. Is there a way to portray how much the main character loves (in a non-romantic way) the missing character without having them interract?
This is the kind of story that can benefit from carefully used flashbacks, memories, dreams, and expository recounts of memories. You still don’t want to overdo it, but I think you could do with one well-placed flashback, a dream, a few recalled memories, and maybe the recounting of a story or two about the person to another character.
You can actually build up the friendship through these devices. For example, you could start with a flashback to when the two friends met–maybe the protagonist sees a moving van and is reminded of the day the character moved in down the street. Later, perhaps she is viewing photos of her and the missing friend. This is a way to give more substance to the friendship without having to go into a lot of exposition. For example:
“I smiled like an idiot as my eyes wandered over each photo in the collage. Here was me and Kara at my 7th birthday party, our faces smudged with cake. Next to it was a picture from soft ball in fifth grade, looking proud after a difficult win. Below that was a photo from Kara’s parents’ lake house where I got to spend half my summer after ninth grade. There was a photo from prom, another from graduation, and another from our first day at university. So many memories in such a small amount of space.”
You might also have a scene where she’s deep in thought, then another character asks if she’s okay and she says she’s thinking about the missing friend. From there she can go into a story about some silly thing they did once, or maybe even something she regrets, like an argument or not returning a call. This way the reader hears more about the friendship as she tells this story to the other character. A combination of these devices will allow you to illustrate the friendship even though one of the characters isn’t present in the story.