Prewriting for Productivity IV: Developing Supporting Characters


Level of Detail

What makes a side character a side character is the level of detail.

Main characters are photos taken in high definition, while side characters are standard definition to sketches with paper and pencil.

Still make them interesting and know things about them, but do not provide as much info. If you provide too much info, you might confuse the reader into thinking that they are more important than they are.

No fillers 


Books with too many characters can become confusing.

Each of your supporting cast should fulfill a purpose in advancing the plot or enriching the setting.

Sometimes, side characters can be combined to fulfill multiple roles.

Mentor

The “older and wiser” character who trains or helps the protagonist come to some realization.

Helps the protagonist see their potential and provides encouragement.

Are often removed from the story/killed off so that the protagonist can eventually stand on his/her own.

Ex: Obi Wan Kenobi, Gandalf, Dumbledore

Sidekick/Foil

This person provides help and moral support to the protagonist.

Often shares the same/similar goals

Is used as a person for the main character to bounce ideas/thoughts off of.

Examples: Han Solo, Samwise Gamgee, Ron Weasley

Love Interest/Temptress

Provides motivation or a distraction for the protagonist

Can help the protagonist discover what is important, what his/her identity is.

Not always present, but fairly common.

Examples: Princess Leia

Contagonist


Sidekick/foil to the villain

Supports and motivates the villain

Gives the villain a voice for their thoughts.

Animals


Can be companions

Can add flavor to the world (especially fantasy creatures.)

Can have personalities

Can help reveal the personality of humans.

Can be fully-fledged characters in fantasy.

Example: Hedwig, Alsan,

Places and Things

Places and things can take on their own personality, especially in fantasy and sci-fi

Example: Hogwarts, the One Ring

Add “extras”

Just like in a movie or play, there are extras in the background that make things feel realistic.

Don’t give a lot of detail about them, but enough to give the desired impression.

Ex: “The marketplace was full of vendors in simple booths, crying out and selling their wares.”

Exercises:

1. For each of the following protagonists, name what kinds of supporting characters they might have. Write up a short sketch about each one of them.

a. an aging knight

b. a teenage Olympic athlete

c. a businessman who just lost his job

2. For each of the following antagonists, name what kinds of supporting characters they might have. Write up a short sketch about each one of them.

a. a cantankerous college professor

b. a disgraced wizard

c. a junior high bully

3. Write a scene between a protagonist and foil character. The hero has just suffered a major defeat at the hands of the antagonist. Focus on revealing the protagonist’s thoughts and reactions in a natural way.

4. Look at your work in progress. Are there places or things that act as characters in their own right? How do you handle this?

5. Pretend you are writing your protagonist walking down a busy beach. Write a description using extra characters to set the mood of the scene.

6. Sketch out your supporting characters and explain the role that each of them will play in your story.

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