Side Characters

The protagonist is certainly the most important character in a story, next to the antagonist of course, but what about the side characters? They’re just there as useful plot points to further the main character along, right? Right?

Heck no.

Every side character is the main character in their own story. You’re telling their story from an outsider’s point of view. They’re not just there to give the protagonist help or show that they have a soft side. You have to treat them like whole people. (I KNOW they’re fictional. But pretending they’re real makes writing easier. And more interesting.) Would you treat a person in real life like they’re only their to support you? If the answer is yes, then you’re a horrible person.

Unless you’re trying to show that your MC is an abusive jerk, they have to have a real relationship with the side character. You can have a whole subplot where the main character is trying to help their best friend keep up their grades. Show that character struggling with frustration and self esteem. Show your MC trying to figure out how to help their friend without doing the homework for them. Don’t have that side character say a line or two about grades and never have it brought up again.

You have to put just as much work into creating a side character as you do your MC. They need hopes and fears, goals and flaws, they need to have the potential to be an MC in a different book. But you also have to make sure that you don’t have too many side characters. Your MC will either be shoved out of the spotlight, or you’ll forget about some side characters and have them randomly appear and disappear. My rule is; if you forget about them, axe ’em.

You need to make your readers attached to your side characters. Especially if you plan on killing one. If your MC is going to mourn them, then the reader should be as well.

So next time you start creating characters, put a bit more thought into your side characters. Could they have a novel of their own? Or could you just have a tape that plays their lines so the MC can receive important information? If the answer is the latter, you have some work to do.

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