There is nothing more endearing than a great supporting character. I think of the movie Sahara where Matthew McConaughey’s (Dirk) humorous side-kick Steve Zahn (Al) added so much to the story, you loved him almost as much as you did the lead. We all recognize Scotland Yard Inspector, Holmes and his incredible sidekick Watson.
Supporting characters are the sounding board, the foil, the spark that allows the leading character to share information with the reader. Don’t you just hate it when characters talk to themselves? What a cheesy way to explain what’s happening in a scene or to express internal conflict.
Supporting characters create balance and sometimes unbalance in a story. A good use for a sidekick is the friend or co-worker who doesn’t let the main character(s) got too full of himself, or go over the edge and murder the man who killed his wife. The counterbalance supporting character, like a wife or child, will show the hardened policeman in a different light.
I’ve heard it say, ‘sidekicks are the yin to the protagonists’ yang.’ That works for me and reminds me the main character(s) need someone to bounce their concerns off, to give comic relief, or to be that one person that will make your story believable. When creating sidekicks just think opposites and you’ll be right on track.
You can also choose sidekicks that are annoying, tormenting, and generally a pain in the butt. What kind of characters are these? Say the over-protective and caring mother. How about the co-worker who is jealous and is constantly trying to belittle the protagonist?
Conflict keeps your story alive and supporting characters can provide all sorts of
stimulating or multidimensional problems that can thwart, obfuscate, and even mystify the protagonist.
In many instances your supporting character is also the adversary who needs convincing and even support throughout the story. With a challenger or rival in the story, the sleuth has opportunities to dispute, struggle and typically reveal his grit, cleverness, resourcefulness, cunning, and also skill.
So who is the supporting character? He/she can be anyone in your main character’s life; wife, a friend, neighbor, co-worker, bartender, even pet. Your supporting character adds dimension to the story by adding more threat or risk, and maybe even the possibility of becoming a suspect.
Just like main characters, supporting characters come with flaws and baggage of their own. It your protagonist has children, who is taking care of them while he/she is out searching for a killer? Again, if you have a pet- they have to be fed and watered as well as taken out for potty breaks. An invalid mother needs a caretaker.
If your supporting character is important to the story, make the reader believably care or hate them, but don’t stereotype them to the point of boring or making them obvious players. Flesh out their characters so they’re integral to the story as well.
Supporting characters should never become as important as the protagonist. They are supporting cast – always keep that in mind. They are there to compliment, not clog the story up with their issues and opinions.
Minor characters should never make a splash when introduced into your story. Minor characters are just that. You don’t have to introduce the waitress or the bar tender if they play no larger role in the story than to serve food or drinks. They are in your story to add texture and realism and nothing more.
Remember, your supporting characters are just that – supporting the main character(s) to facilitate the plot and keep the reader turning those pages with increased intensity.