Making Characters Stuck in the Background Pop Out

I once watched a show that had two protagonists. Only, it didn’t. Not really. As an audience, we followed both characters throughout the whole story. The narrative was very much trying to make it about two people, but really, for a lot of the show, one of the “protagonists” seemed to be stuck in the background. He was in almost all the scenes, but he wasn’t really defined. He was really only defined by the other protagonist. The “background” protagonist was defined by what he wasn’t.  He just didn’t shine. He didn’t pop out. At least not until toward the end of the series.

You might run into a similar problem in your story. I know I have. I might have this viewpoint character who is supposed to be cool and important and likeable, but for some reason I can’t get her to actually be those things. I can’t get her to pop out. She’s sort of just in the background, even though she’s always on stage.

But this isn’t just a problem with protagonists. You might have this problem with a secondary character. You need to get that character to pop out, and she’s not.

Well, you’re in luck. ‘Cause here is why it happens and how to fix it.

In the show I was watching, the two protagonists were opposites in a lot of ways (which, side note, is actually a good thing to do). They foiled each other. But the story kept setting up situations that favored protagonist A’s abilities and therefore never protagonist B’s. In fact, it made it so protagonist B had to often rely on protagonist A.

So the first tip is to look at the situations in your story. Make sure you have situations that favor the stuck-in-the-background character. Better yet, set up a situation where that character is the only person who can solve the problem or save the day, so that other people are relying on him. He’ll pop out of the background immediately.

In the show I was watching, protagonist A kept overshadowing protagonist B. Later in the series, they had to separate from each other. And you know what happened? Without protagonist A around all the time, we could see what protagonist B could do.

So if you have a character blending into the background,consider  separating her from the “louder” characters. Sometimes “quieter” characters get overshadowed by the loud ones, so you need to get rid of the loud (if only temporarily) and overly talented ones to show what the quiet guys can do. That’s one reason a lot of mentor characters die in stories. They’re overpowering the pupil. Once they’re gone, we can see what the hero is really made of.


1- set up situations that favor that character’s abilities.

2- or/and separate him from the “louder” characters.

September C. Fawkes

About September C. Fawkes

Sometimes September C. Fawkes scares people with her enthusiasm for writing and reading. People may say she needs to get a social life. It'd be easier if her fictional one wasn't so interesting.

September C. Fawkes graduated with an English degree with honors from Dixie State University, where she was the managing editor of The Southern Quill literary journal and had the pleasure of writing her thesis on Harry Potter. She was also able to complete an internship in which she wrote promotional pieces for events held in Southern Utah, like the National Cowboy Poetry Rodeo, and she participated in a creative open mic night, met some lovely people in a writers’ group, and worked as a tutor at the Writing Center. Her college experience, although demanding, was rewarding.She liked it enough to consider getting her M.F.A., and she got accepted into a couple of programs, but decided to pass on it.

Since then, she has had the opportunity to work as an assistant for the New York Times bestselling author David Farland, while on rare occasions critiquing novels or proofreading promotional pieces on the side. Mostly she hides out in her room and writes.