Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Secrets to Writing an Awesome Supporting Cast

If there's one thing that disappoints me the most, besides predictable plots and lack of detail, is when there's a supporting cast that has no point whatsoever but to push the main character from Point A to Point B. Yes, that's what they're there for, however, we also need our supporting cast to be just as three dimensional. Throwing a character in for the sake of the story is weak and unfair to your readers. Give us a reason to care about these people. For example: *SPOILER ALERT FOR THOSE WHO HAVE NOT WATCHED THE SHOW SLEEPY HOLLOW* The wife. Can we all agree that her character is completely pointless? She shows up in Ichabod's dreams and conveniently reveals bits of information needed for the story line in that particular episode. Thankfully she hasn't made an appearance in the last two episodes, I don't think, but, damn did that irritate me! I want to rip my hair out every time she shows up. GO AWAY, POINTLESS CHARACTER! YOU ARE NOT INTERESTING AND/OR NECESSARY.

Okay. Now that I've finally gotten that off my chest, let's begin!

1. Give them depth. 

Answer these questions (without info dumping, of course!): Where did your main character meet supporting cast? What is the supporting cast like? What's their background? Where did they come from? Why are they important to the main character? What is their relationship with the main character like?

Questions like these will create that background info we need to better understand why the supporting cast is essential to the story. They're not just place holders, they are chess pieces. Each piece has a motive/a reason to exist. What is theirs?

2. Don't make that token character a "token character." 

For instance, if you have a gay character who is portrayed as a stereotypical gay character, you've lost me completely. I cannot tell you how offended I get when a character is so unlike a real life person. Making your gay character flamboyantly gay, or your blonde girl completely ditzy, is beyond offensive and unrealistic. This may sound harsh, but it's true. I'm not the only person rolling my eyes at this, believe me. If stereotyping your characters is all you have to make them stand out or seem "different", maybe you should consider a different direction for that character.

People want to relate to them, not feel singled out.

3. What's a character without personality?

A flat character makes for a boring character. Don't just let them spew a bunch of info to get the point across. Give them something that makes them memorable. Sarcasm. The guy with all the one-liners. The girl who is super smart minus the ever-present-black-framed-glasses. (It's okay. Girls without glasses are smart, too.) The band guy who doesn't have long black bangs and wears eyeliner. The girl who rocks the violin. Give us SOMETHING that makes these characters realistic. Make them someone  YOU would be friends with, or ARE friends with. Not someone you THINK a teenager would be friends with.

These are definitely not the last of the bullet points, but this gives you a place to start. Or, at least, something to think about. Having a supporting cast that is more well-rounded and meaningful makes for an entirely different story. Consider this when you read through your manuscript and ask yourself if your main cast is all they can be to bring this story to life. Don't be afraid to ask your critique partners to really dissect that aspect of your writing. What are your strengths and weaknesses when it comes to your supporting cast?

If you have other suggestions you'd like to add, please feel free to post them in the comment section! Cheers!

Heather Marie is a YA writer who loves all things creepy. She enjoys writing horror/supernatural stories that make you question that feeling of someone watching over your shoulder. Heather spends most of her days reading and writing and plotting her next idea. When she's not in her writing cave, she enjoys watching creepy TV shows with her husband and picking apart plot holes in movies.

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2 secret replies:

  1. Excellent points! I use to do this A LOT in my writing, because my main character back then was a real smart-mouth, and so I would manipulate the people around her so she came up as smarter/more gobby than they, even though I knew that they could have made equally smartmouth replies.

  2. Great advice! I think when I started my book, the supporting characters were a bit weak, but as I began to develop a subplot, they became more defined and crucial to the overall story.