Full disclaimer. I LOVE supporting characters. I always have. They’re the characters I fall in love with. With most stories, the main characters could get killed off and I would feel nothing, but anything happens to their sidekick or best friend and I’ll be sobbing my eyes out.
This was always my way with books and films, but I never thought it would have an affect on my writing. I have a sneaky suspicion it has, though.
Do you ever experience this?
You’re writing your story. You have your main characters, it’s all going swimmingly and then suddenly it hits you. That secondary, supporting character is so much fun to write. They’re such a big personality, so interesting that you want to know more. Slowly, they’re starting to overshadow your protagonist.
Your supporting character is taking over the plot.
It’s happened to me.
Nearly ten years ago I started writing a book about a dragonslayer named Del. She was my protagonist. It was her story.
I got half way through, sat back and thought, ‘something is missing.’ The story was okay but it lacked oomph.
Ah, I realised. Del is out on the Wastelands but my protagonist in the city. I need a character in the city with the protagonist to get the other side that Del couldn’t possibly have.
So, I created Tabitha. A young maid who worked in the castle. And Markkus, an older war veteran who worked directly with the protagonist, Rupert. I went back, wrote these two new characters in and the plot began moving again. The story became easier to write.
Then I wrote the scene where Tabitha and Markkus have a conversation. The scene sparkled, and not because of my writing. It was because these two were drawn to each other. I had inadvertently created two characters destined to fall in love. I made Tabitha older to make it less icky, and carried on.
Slowly but surely, Tabitha and Markkus became increasingly more interesting. They began to take over and soon, I had not one book finished but outlines for two more books.
All thanks to two supposedly secondary characters.
You see what I mean?
I’m now writing my fourth novel with a whole new cast of characters, and two of the supporting characters, Ruby and Marshall, just met. I can already feel them getting ready to take over. I can’t wait to see who they become.
You might have seen this except on Instagram or Facebook.
What can you do about this?
If you feel your supporting character is taking over your plot and story, here are a few things you could do:
- Embrace it!
Keep writing and see where they take you. Maybe they’ll become the new protagonist, maybe they won’t, but you’ll likely get a wonderful surprise from them. Allow them to flourish and see what happens.
- Hold them back but take notes.
Don’t let them take over. Keep their part small. But as they push against you and try to grow, make notes of what they want to do and say and what their backstory is. You could easily get enough material for a whole other book all about them.
- Reconsider your story.
If your supporting character is becoming more interesting than your main cast, it may be time to sit back and have a rethink. Maybe your cast list needs juggling around, or maybe that supporting character has done something that means changing the plot. Don’t be afraid to rebuild your book around these characters, they could well make the story so much better than you had originally planned.
My favourite supporting characters
The first supporting characters who I adore that spring to mind are:
Spider in Elysium
He’s a hacker, so intelligent, and has a limp. He sends people to Elysium to get healed and seems to genuinely care when they get shot down. But he doesn’t go there himself to fix his leg. But he jumps at a chance to bring Elysium down. This man has heart as well as brains, as well as huge gangster authority. He’s fascinating.
Mitch in Vicious by V.E.Schwab
I’ve talked before about loving this book. Part of the reason I love it is because of the writing, the other part is Mitch. He has no special powers. He’s no superhero. He’s just a man so down on his luck that he thinks he’s cursed. But he looks after young Sydney like she’s his own, he loves black and white movies, and he’s incredibly intelligent. He’s a huge bulk of a misunderstood man who uses his brain rather his brawn to break the law. I adore him.
Come to think of it, Mitch is a hacker too… Are hackers my favourite type of supporting character?
Silo in The Ketty Jay Series
A quiet ex-slave with a talent for engines, Silo goes on an incredible journey in the Ketty Jay series. He’s only a supporting character in the sense that the series is really a steampunk fantasy romance about the Captain of the ship. It’s Silo’s mystery that is fascinating, with little hints of his intelligence and strength. By the time you learn his backstory, he’s already on your radar and in my case, in my heart.
Why are none of my favourites female?!
I had to have a good think about this and stared at my book and movie collection. What did I discover? All my favourite female characters are the protagonists.
I wonder what that says about me.
Who are your favourite supporting characters?
Let me know in the comments.