Tuesday, June 12, 2012

How to Create Engaging Supporting Characters

How to Create Engaging Supporting Characters: Tao te Soul

If the protagonist is your story's meat, and the plot it's potatoes, then your supporting characters are its vegetables, spices, and dessert. Over-stretched food metaphors aside, your supporting characters are what define your story and give it texture. Many of them don't exist past a single scene, so it's very important to create and define these characters as quickly as you can.

Below are seven easy tips on creating these characters as quickly and effectively as possible.

  1. Create a personality quirk - The easiest (and most fun) method is to give your supporting character an unusual personality trait for their archetype. Archetypes are inescapable in fiction, so whenever you find that one of your characters is flatly imitating thousands of like characters, throw in a curve ball. Make your gruff warrior/barbarian a fashion snob. Your scientist can be deathly afraid of his lab mice. Your vegetarian dog lover? A borderline sociopath. Create a stereotypical characterization, and throw a fly in the ointment.
  2. Establish a relationship before or after you meet them - This is cheating a little bit, but if your supporting is the main character's mother, foreshadow it with your protagonist's mommy issues. If your villain's sidekick is about to come in, tell us how your protagonist used to be his best friend. Characters don't have to grow from a void.
  3. Set an important task - Every Batman needs a Robin. Or a Morgan Freeman. If your supporting character is an important one, give him something to do that the protagonist needs done. Have your supporting characters remove kryptonite from Superman's neck.
  4. Give them power - Powerful people are important. They're automatically engaging because they have what your protagonist wants, or they stand in his way. Either way, a powerful person stands in your protagonist's way, and we love obstacles.
  5. Give them a flaw - Your protagonist is a hero, in somebody's mind. If somebody needs his help, that shines a light on who he is, no matter what his response. Even if they don't need help directly, having your protagonist interact with a flawed character highlights who both of them are.
  6. Make them fail - Sometimes, one of the best things you can do for your story is have an easy but essential task - one taken for granted 99.9% of the time - completely explode. A supporting character who slips on a match while knocking over a tank of gasoline will always add punch to your story.
  7. Express an insight - A new character in your story is going to have a different perspective than the reader, or longtime characters. Having a supporting character provide a fresh set of eyes is a great way to establish who they are, and what's changed in the story.

In other words, create your characters with your story. Use them as rocks to throw at your character and shields to protect him. Give them a very specific role, and fill in the edges with idiosyncrasies, and you're done.


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