Whenever I ask someone about their book or their work in progress, their face lights up. They give me a strong snap-shot of the world they created, the major conflicts and, of course, a detailed description of the protagonist. It isn’t until I read their book that I discover their often-delightful, supporting characters.
I’ve always felt bad for supporting characters. They don’t get the love and attention they deserve. Like Luna Lovegood from the Harry Potter series, or Charlotte Lucas, Elizabeth Bennet’s best friend in Pride and Prejudice - each one is complex and interesting, but when push comes to shove, no one’s going to pay money to dress up like them for Halloween.
Creating interesting side-kicks for our protagonists is an art form in of itself. We pour time and energy into perfecting our protagonists, but without their friends, acquaintances and, let’s face it, frenemies, we can’t see all their complexities. Each supporting character brings out a new side of our protagonist, making their personalities rich and multifaceted.
In the interest of disclosure, I have an easier time developing supporting characters than I have crafting protagonists. I start by thinking of the traits my protagonist lacks. For example, in my current work in progress, my main character needs to work on her empathy. The solution? Creating a side-kick who desperately needs the patience and understanding of others. My protagonist lacks confidence, so I created a love interest who demands it of her. Even in real life, we gravitate to those who possess talents and traits which we lack. Why should our characters be any different?
By having each supporting character embody one strong personality point, I help bring out the strengths and weaknesses in my main character. Technically, these types of characters are called foils (think of Shakespeare’s incredible pairing of the passive lover, Romeo, and the intense fighter, Mercutio). By developing multiple foils, you not only allow readers to have a clear understanding of your supporting characters, but you also make your protagonist come alive.
A protagonist alone doesn’t make a story. Give some extra love to their side-kicks and watch them shine.
Bethany Masone Harar is an author, teacher, and blogger, who does her best to turn reluctant readers into voracious, book-reading nerds. Check out her blog here.