You know all about your Protagonist, right? Everything he thinks and feels; all of her motivations. Why she hates geometry. Whether he likes to dress up in women’s lingerie, and why.
You have all of that clear in your head. Your protagonist is this great shining example of heroism, with flaws that deepen him into a complex character, but aren’t fatal.
But what about the rest of the cast?
Hopefully your villain jumps to life from the pages as well. If not, go back to the drawing board. But by the time you’ve finished the first draft, you know this person inside and out as well.
So what if the supporting cast is skimpy? It’s not their story, right?
We’ve all fallen into this trap.
Funny thing about those supporting characters. For the book to be successful, they have to be every bit as real, every iota as fleshed out, as your main characters. And all that while on stage a fraction of the time.
That’s what makes a good novel.
But let’s define who they are first.
Often what I see are novels simply spilling over with characters. Many times, no definable Protagonist is to be had, as we have a full ensemble cast. And while a large cast is okay, someone still has to take the lead.
You know—the hero who knows the story is about her.
But even with a tale driven by a strong Protagonist, often we have ten supporting characters. Which truly waters down all of them.
Many times, I suggest writers combine several of the ancillary characters into one, strong one.
Because you can have a lot of folks weaving through your novel. But the most important secondary characters need a couple of things.
1. They need to be limited to 2 or 3.
2. Those you give a good bit of page time to need to become real, three-sided, fully fleshed-out folks. With a strong role in the story, and important pieces to the plot
No, they won’t be on stage nearly as much as the hero or villain. But you, as the author, have to delve deeply into them, know what makes them tick, know their hopes and dreams, fears and joys, in order to fully understand their MO through the story.
The ‘why they’re even here’ answer.
These become folks around whom you could write an entire novel.
Will most of this be portrayed on the manuscript itself? No. As with all things about your book—you need to know absolutely everything about everybody. That doesn’t get inked on the page, however, or your opus would be 500k long.
But by truly going deep with all the important characters, diving into their realms, ferreting out not just the most important aspects of them, but the littlest points down to why she hates broccoli, then you can portray them with much more depth on the page, in a few number of words.
Because even the clerk at the convenience store, who sells your main character his winning lotto ticket, believes this story is about her.
If she doesn’t, she has no business even being in one scene.
And that’s your litmus test for who to include: Does he think this is his story, even if he has only one scene.
That’s what makes your scene vital. That’s what makes for a good novel. Yes, we want the plot to move well through the pages. But it’s the people who drive that plot. And the richer they are, the more they demand to be there, the better your book will be.
And you want your book to be great, no? You want to become a successful author, with readers clamoring for your next one.
Fine attention to your characters will get you there.
While yes, especially in today’s publishing world, the plot’s the thing, rich, textured, well-drawn folks drive that plot.
How do you make sure your secondary characters add to the story?