Supporting Characters – The Wrap Up
My last four posts have touched on important supporting characters in the lives of our main character. Whether it’s a 500-word picture book or an epic sci-fi trilogy, these roles are a part of any story.
I thought it might be helpful to put them all in one post. Besides it’s often the subtle connections and surprising crossover can make the most interesting characters.
The Comic Relief (see full post here – and hey guys, this post was chosen to be printed in the Oregon SCBWI newsletter! Thanks so much Sue!)
These characters can have a wide variety of purposes in our stories. They can be anything from small “bit parts” to characters that we find out wielded more power and insight than it originally seemed.
— genuine RELIEF from intense, exhausting scenes
— a false sense of security before a big moment (lowering the guard)
— the curiously intelligent fool who speaks the truth like no one else can
Comic relief can be anything from a younger brother who is always making everyone laugh, a crazy aunt who swears it’s Christmas every July or even a fleeting memory that changes the mood as it crosses the character’s mind.
The Sidekick (see full post here)
How to spot a sidekick: Just look for the person who had the MC’s back from early on, and at the end… while it may be in a different way… is still on their side.
— the Intangible: this can be common in picture books where a purple crayon, casually mentioned grandparent or even a piece of clothing can fill this role.
— the BFF: the most obvious sidekick is of course the buddy, keeping in mind that any real friendship still has tension and arguments.
— the Irritant: the trouble maker that’s an important part of who the MC really is.
The sidekick is often under appreciated by the main character. They just expect their support, even though they may act like they don’t even want it at times. It’s often someone with the unfortunate job of, in just the right moment, reminding them of why they’re on this journey in the first place.
The Sage (see full post here)
A common thread in almost any journey (story or real life) is having someone who has inspired us. Someone we look up to, look to for support and guidance. Our sage.
— Classic Mentors: comforting familiar roles we all love to love, with their long-beards and wise eyes, they often tell us what deep down we already knew. They also can be great for quick “information dumps”, because the main character’s trust in them will instinctively pass to the reader.
— Surprise Mentors: perhaps they’re combined with the Comic Relief (the Wise Fool!) or a shockingly insightful child. This character, while sometimes hard to master, can add layers of foreshadowing that makes for a powerful story.
We all need guidance. And our main characters are no exception.
The Villain (see full post here)
The essence of conflict, the catalyst for it all, in many ways, this character can embody the reason for the story as a whole.
— the One We Love to Hate: clean cut evil that we all rally against.
— The Not SO-Bad: these characters can bring up philosophical questions and debates about what is right and wrong.
— The Intangible: a mental illness or disability that often teaches us that our definition of “beating” something or “wining” must change.
Without evil, there can be no good. Without a villain, our MC falls flat. If there is nothing to overcome, then there is no story at all.
Our main character, our hero, needs the support of those around them. These supporting characters are often the most memorable, the ones that stick with us years down the road. They are in a unique position to affect the reader. A subtle comment or surprising moment that caught us off guard can change the way we looked at everything.
Think of the people in your own lives, your own mentors, sidekicks, comic relief and villains. They are likely an important part of why you are the person you are.
Our main characters deserve that same sense of self.
And our manuscripts are worth it!
Erika Wassall is a writer, a farmer and a liver of life. She is a member of SCBWI and a proud Mad Scientist, bringing science experiments right into children’s classrooms, and hearts. She has a small farm in New Jersey with sheep, chickens, pigs and vegetables. Check out her new website at www.TheJerseyFarmScribe.com where as a first generation farmer, she often takes the long way, learning the tricks of the trade on The Farm. On her website is also The Shop page with tips and a free Q/A from her husband’s mechanic shop, and The Writer page where she shares stories, experiences and characters from the heart. Follow her on Twitter at @NJFarmScribe. She’d love to hear from you!
Thank you Erika for another great post.