Monday, June 10, 2013

Supporting Your Supporting Characters

Are each one of your cast of characters real? They should be. Yes, even the guy in the restaurant who spills his soup on your MC and is never seen again. (Though I may argue another time that it should actually be another character instead that IS used again, that's not today's post) 

How? How do you round out all those people when you have limited space and you're expected to not only fill in world, your MC's ARC, and plot, but make sure every word pushes us forward?

Step 1

  • Make sure YOU know everything about that person. Do you do character sheets for your main characters? Do one for everybody! They're fun no matter what. You should at least know why that person is present, what they want, and what they will do to get it. Is the guy at the restaurant solely to spill soup on our MC? I don't know about you, but that's not why I go out to eat! Maybe he's nervously awaiting his blind date. Maybe he's distracting the waiter on purpose so he can dine and ditch. IDK, but you should! 
Step 2
  • Knowing what you know about that character, how might she react if our MC impedes on HER plans? Let me give you an example. In the case of our soup spiller, perhaps he sees the woman of his dreams walk in and that's when he knocks the soup onto our poor, unsuspecting MC. Now everyone's staring, including the horrified woman. Here's another; I've been working on a WIP where one of the side characters has a crush on my MC. I just wrote a scene where she makes a self-depricating remark, which kind of came out of nowhere. My MC didn't get it. He's oblivious, but it really stung me when it happened, and I thought, 'good, if I feel for her, then maybe others will too.' I think I will keep it because not only does it demonstrate her character and make her more real, it also gives us a chance to see something about the MC (Mr. Clueless).
Step 3
  • If this character appears again later, how can you round out her ARC in a way that intercepts the plot or our MC's character ARC? Will my MC later get a chance to make amends with this character? If the rest goes as I think it will then yes. Perhaps the man who spills the soup while waiting for his date will open the door for our MC later, only to chase after the girl and let it swing closed. But maybe this time our MC will catch it instead of letting it hit him in the nose. He he. 
Step 4
  • Don't forget to let us in on little details that help us see the person as real. Does the soup guy keep adjusting his bow tie? Or tap his leg in a way that annoys our MC? 
Every word has a purpose. Every action has a purpose. And every character has a purpose. 

Other tips for rounding out characters? Share!


  1. Great tips, Lisa. Even if all the backstory and details don't get into your story, it is important to know the secondary characters well.

  2. You always have the best tips, Lisa. I love writing secondary characters. The trick is making sure they don't outshine the mc. I've written a few secondary characters that start demanding their own book. lol

  3. Great list! I love knowing things about my characters that I don't necessarily place in the story. It's like having a very cool secret tucked in your pocket for no one else but you.

  4. Loving these tips! I agree about needing to flesh out supporting characters. It helps make the world our MCs live in feel more real, since everyone else in that world isn't simply a cardboard cutout!

  5. I love those 2ndary characters who leap off the page! Once of mine is clamouring for his own story - and he's likely going to get it :)

  6. I love this advice! Right now I'm working on a spreadsheet to take note of what each character is doing during the scene, even if they aren't in it. It helps me focus on their story as well as the MC's.

  7. Great post. I know this can be tricky. But having real characters is essential.

  8. Great tips! One thing I've learned is that each character should have a goal, even if it's a minor goal. Better yet, if the minor character's goal conflicts with the MC's.

  9. The more authentic the better. Super tips.