A writer’s job is to explore the story of the main character. What does this person want? How are they going to get it? And what is standing in their way? Simply put, a novelist’s goal is to depict the complexities of the world through a select point of view. But, as many of us know, writing a book isn’t as easy as it sounds. It’s gritty, raw, eye-opening, and tedious. But so worth it!
Today, I’d like to discuss crafting strong supporting characters to embellish the main character’s journey. Ultimately, the story we choose to write is our main character’s story, but a strong supporting cast can make or break a book. When a story falls “flat,” it isn’t always because of a poorly written main character. The protagonist can be incredible, but if the side characters aren’t well-developed, it endangers the whole story. I would argue that it’s the burden of the author to make all characters involved come alive.
There are four types of supporting characters:
(1) The Mentor. This is the classic teacher figure that guides the main character on his/her journey. It is typically a knowledge-giving role. The more mature/wiser/older character bestows wisdom upon the naïve/younger character.
(2) The Sidekick. This can be a best friend, comic relief, confidant, or acquaintance. Usually, this character is around the same age as the main character and is there for moral support, advice, comfort, etc.
(3) The Antagonist. Classically known as “the villain.” The term antagonist literally means “a person who actively opposes,” so the antagonist doesn’t necessarily have to be evil. There are many types of antagonists, including the well-known “bully” role.
(4) The Love Interest. Ooh-La-La! Got to love a good love interest. This character engages in a more intimate relationship with the main character and catalyzes growth/drama/challenges/etc. Typically, the love interest is one of the main character’s biggest supporters.
Now that we’ve explored the four categories, I’d like to share my biggest tip for crafting authentic, pop-off-the-page side characters. Base them off of real life people you know. I’m serious. It’s the easiest way to create realistic characters. You don’t have to write a carbon copy of someone in your life, but use them as a template. How do they talk? What quirks do they have? How do they react when they are stressed? Happy? Sad? Angry?
By using other people, you have a framework that allows you to write characters that feel real. The success of a story hinges on the reader connecting with the supporting cast just as much as the main character.
It makes me giddy when someone says their favorite character in my book is a side character. That tells me I’m doing my job.
That brings me to my second tip. Create a diverse cast of personalities. We all “click” with certain types of people in our personal lives. The same can be said of readers. It’s interesting to note that some readers naturally gravitate toward the antagonist over the love interest, or the side kick over the mentor.
You don’t want every character in your book to be cut from the same cloth. Too many “nice” characters is boring. It’s okay to get gritty and negative. Get selfish. Be nasty. Go crazy. We need a rich spread of personality types to mimic the world around us.
And finally, have fun! I like to act it out. How would I (the author) interact with said side character? Would we be friends? Enemies? Acquaintances? Would I like them in real life? Would I strive to avoid them? Would I be willing to stand up for them? Throw yourself into the mix and pull the reader in with you.
Well, that’s all! Thanks for reading. And happy writing, friends!