What to Consider for Supporting Characters

Besides the protagonist, several other characters feature in our stories, as they should. What would our tale be without the antagonist? Certainly it would fall flat with no conflict. But supporting characters can be complicated. For instance, how do we know when to give one a sub plot or a story arc? How do we recognize other major players? Maybe they’re a viewpoint character that features a POV from their perspective. Either way they get page time either along with or separate from the protagonist. Most importantly, their goals and actions affect the plot and move the story forward.

So what do these major players need? First, they must have a goal, a desire to work towards. Give them a goal and a plan of action for getting it. Of course you need conflict though, so they won’t all be getting their way. Still you need to figure out what they want and why. (You won’t necessarily need to know the why for minor characters, but you will for these guys). A lot of these goals will be in conflict with the protagonist and that’s a good thing. What motivates these characters? What do they believe in? This is at the heart of why they’re doing what they’re doing. This will beautifully thicken the layers of your characters and make them more complex, so give them a why as well.

On top of goals, your other major characters need to have a flaw. This could come from what they believe that may not be true, but they need a flaw that affects their actions. This could be an inner flaw, likes self-doubt that keeps a character from acting, or an external flaw, like a controlling mother that directs a character’s actions. Both of these flaws affect more than the character who exhibits them.

The next layer of characters you’ll have is your minor characters. These guys get little page time and may not even have speaking roles. But they’re important because they people your world. Without them your stage is empty and deserted and your world is hollow. These are not POV characters, even if they are recurring characters. And they do not get their own sub plots. And yes, at some point we have to stop giving characters backstories. If your minor characters do, use it to write the story but do not include it in the story. Extras just get mentioned by one characteristic as part of the setting, like the boy in the red hat or the old man with the paper. Giving these minor characters too much depth erroneously makes them seem important enough to take note of. Don’t waste your reader’s time. You want your story to be complex, but also concise and clear.

Choosing your major characters will come down to theme as well. Whether it’s as a foil to your protagonist or to show a different aspect of your theme. So if your theme is having self-confidence, one of your major characters might be a cocky jerk who always has to be right. But you never want to overpower your story with even a major character’s arc. The story is about your protagonist at the end of it.

All this should help you navigate the world of supporting characters. How do you choose your other major players? Share below and happy writing!

Julia

Follow my column at Our Write Side and my Twitter for more writing tips and inspiration. Find me on Facebook for weekly prompts.

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