I read a lot of romance [more than I care to admit family…even to you], and my favorite trope of long-running romance series is their tendency to give every character mentioned their own title role in a book. Some authors, like JR Ward in her Black Dagger Brotherhood series, do this masterfully. You read the novels demanding to understand how it’s possible that every Joe Blow that walks across the page from the star-studded hunk to the introverted janitor can find love, but you’re still chilling on Saturday afternoons with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s and these love novels. [And you believe it!?]
Unfortunately, not all writers can do this. Some of these series are contrived at best, insulting to your intelligence at worst. But why? Same trope…same flavor of Ben & Jerry’s? Right? Well…not exactly.
Many authors treat side characters as though they’re just that…only relevant to what’s going on in the sidelines. They give no thought to the important purpose these characters and their personalities bring to the story or how they can influence the greater scope of the work. Most importantly, they forget that side characters are the main characters of their own unique and individual storylines. They should be treated with the utmost care and respect.
For a great example, look to the graphic accompanying this article. Originally Robin was an afterthought that took root in Bob Kane’s and the other writers’ minds as a way to tract younger readership and create a “Holmes-Watson” dynamic for the Caped Crusader. Pretty soon, however, the character AND title of Robin became their own movement. Whole comics, teams, TV shows, and movies would be centered on or heavily feature this character or a character with this role. He’s not only considered as one of history’s greatest sidekicks, but he’s also repeatedly documented in the top 20 comic book characters/heroes of all time.
So how do you protect yourself from falling into the trap of sidelining side characters? Easy! Take time to develop a short backstory or history for the characters you plan to mention more than twice in your story. Even if it’s only a few notes about their origin or motivations, have a solid understanding and appreciation for who they are and what they bring to the overall plot line. This will help you to not only have a stronger voice when you write these characters, but it will help you have a better sense of the entire story you plan to write.
And you never know… They could show up later as having a larger role than you originally intended. The person you mention in passing in the first paragraph could be the key to your plot resolution in the last chapter. So, [great] writers, take care: the side characters you threw in to carry your plot line today could become the leads in your bestseller tomorrow.
Do you have any great tidbits or tips when it comes to character development? How do you create engaging personalities for your work? What should we talk about in our next article? Leave a comment below, and don’t forget to subscribe to our page and follow for more great insight!
As always, I can’t wait to read what you’re writing!