What is meant when we talk about ‘balancing character traits’ in a story? Imagine if you had a hero who is so full of himself that he’s almost unlikable? He needs a balancing character, one who can keep the hero from taking himself too seriously, one who ‘compliments’ the hero. It can even take the path of humor or explain the reason the hero hides behind his façade. Or consider you have a beginner detective who needs a mentor, someone he can look up to. Or you might want to show a hard-boiled writer and show his softer side by giving him a daughter he’s devoted to.
We all will admit the most important supporting character in any genre is the sidekick. It seems every suspense protagonist has one. One of my favorites is writer Castle, who has his detective ‘friend’ Kate. Think about your favorite and you’ll know exactly what I mean. The ‘side-kick’ compliments the main character. They are usually opposite and that has a way of making things interesting.
It’s the old cliché, opposites attract. Suspense protagonists and their sidekicks are a study in contrasts. Create a sidekick and watch the fun begin.
That takes us to the fact that every protagonist in a suspense needs an adversary, too. This is not the villain, but a good-guy character. The adversary drives your protagonist nuts, pushes his buttons, harasses him, puts obstructions in his way, and is literally a pain in the behind. It might be a domineering co-worker, or a know-it-all best friend. It might be an ex-wife who wants nothing but to prove the protagonist wrong. It might even be the sexy neighbor who only wants to seduce the protagonist.
Conflict is the trigger that jolts your character alive. The adversary can cause the protagonist all kinds of momentous glitches and complicate your story by putting up barriers to the investigation.
An adversary may remain stubborn and skeptical off the protagonist’s theory. Or an adversary may be intentionally disruptive. Let’s say for example the ex-wife may fail to forward information because she is jealous of the implications.
When developing an adversary, remember it should be someone who can spoil, infuriate and generally get in your protagonist’s way. With an adversary in the story, your protagonist will get oodles of opportunity to bicker, struggle and in general show his grit and shrewdness.
Although supporting characters give your character life, each one should also play a distinct role in the story. We all consider the supporting character a bit of a stereotype, but don’t forget to flesh them out. Turn them into complex characters who do things that surprise you—and, in turn, the reader.
Never allow the supporting character to control the limelight, but weak and boring characters shouldn’t be allowed to take-over your story, either. Also make sure your reader doesn’t become so involved with the supporting character that he/she takes over the story.