Character Support Makes a Story Stronger

A Company of Heroes
September 22, 2009
Carry On My Wayward Son
September 24, 2009

Focal characters, viewpoint characters, foil characters and sidekicks; prose is filled with so many more people than just the protagonist or the antagonist. In fact, in most novels, television shows, films as in life, a wide variety of personalities make up the cast. Think about a book you read most recently. Think about all the characters in it beyond the main characters.

Let’s say you chose a J.D. Robb book. The books feature Eve Dallas and her husband Roarke. Eve and Roarke are undeniably the lead characters of the story, but these books also feature the lives and times of Peabody, McNab, Feeney, Commander Whitney, Mavis, Leonardo and dozens more. These books would just not be the same without this huge cast of characters.

As a writer, one of the things you recognize is that secondary and supporting characters are just as vital to the success of your story as your lead characters. In fact, I would suggest that they are even more important than the main characters.

Why, you ask?

Like anything, a story is more than the sum of its parts, but it is that sum of parts that creates the atmosphere and character of the story. Long after you finish a book, some characters just stand out as larger than life and more often than not, that character that stands out is a secondary character. In the Jim Butcher books, that character might be Michael, Harry’s friend and the former Knight of the Cross or Molly, Michael’s daughter and Harry’ s apprentice or even Morgan, Harry’s longtime nemesis.

In Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum books those characters include Connie, Lula or Granny. In Julie Garwood’s contemporary novels, it was Noah Clayborne who played that colorful role. I would imagine in any series that you read or book that you pick up, the secondary characters influenced your enjoyment of it every bit as much as the leads. In long-running series this is especially important because you want to see development and interest. You want to know who had a baby and who went to college. It’s fun to revisit couples who were leads in previous books as seen in Kay Hooper’s special crimes unit books or with Nora Roberts trilogies and Kelly Armstrong’s Women of the Otherworld.

Breeding Familiarity

Secondary and supporting characters are the life’s blood of a story. They provide texture, color and depth to the story. No two characters are an island and no matter how wrapped up in each other or in their own problems or even the conflict point in the story. They interact with others from the grocer to the waiter to the best friend, the relatives, the neighbors and the co-workers.

Storywise, the supporting cast provides a confidant, a guide, comic relief and more for the main characters. I can’t imagine reading or writing without some supporting characters. Colorful characters, steadfast characters and even jaded characters make for a fantastic supporting cast. I am a big fan of the supporting cast from Hodgins on Bones to Bobby on Supernatural to McGee on NCIS to Peabody in the In Death series and so many, many more.

As a writer, I find myself falling in love with my supporting characters. In my upcoming novel Prime Evil, the character that leapt out of the story for me was Sydney. Strong personality, fun attitude and wildly interesting to write about, I knew from her first words on the paper that she would be back in the next book. She had to be,

What supporting characters are your favorites?

1 Comment

  1. RKCharron says:

    Hi 🙂
    Thank you for the great insightful post on secondary characters Heather.
    One of my favorites is Dr. Watson in the Sherlock Holmes books.
    All the best,

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