5 Tips to Writing Strong Supporting Characters

A book would be nothing without characters, and with such an important role, it’s vital that we create ones that are strong and rememberable. These include our supporting characters.

When creating your main characters no doubt you put much time and effort into crafting their personality, their history, their relationships with others, their personal tastes in all areas of life, their physical appearance, their desires and needs, their background, education, occupation, and the list goes on. To sum this up, you know your main characters intimately. The same should be said of your supporting characters.

You might be wondering why as they don’t have the same on-the-page time as do main characters, but here’s the reason: characters can make or break your book just as a bad actor or actress can kill a movie.

Consider for a minute how boring it would be if all your characters were black shadows walking through a cardboard city. That’s essentially how flat a story can be if the characters haven’t been fine-tuned. So how can you create strong supporting characters? The same way you create main characters.

Maybe the thought of creating strong characters makes you feel overwhelmed or you don’t know how to get started with this. Here are a few suggestions.

1) Interview the character with intimate questions that really tap into their psyche. Don’t just ask them, for example, why they chose a certain profession; ask them what emotions or external factors led to their choice? Don’t just scrape the surface, pry beneath it. By taking our character analysis to this deeper level, you will not only know who your character is, but why they are who they are. And by talking to your characters, no, you’re not going crazy. Your characters should be as real to you any flesh and blood person would be. If you don’t buy them as such, neither will your reader.

2) Go deeper. Once you know their background, how does this factor into their life choices and reactions to certain situations now? Maybe they had a hard childhood and were not allowed to express their emotions. They may not even be aware of their need to overcome this. Maybe they never saw their parents cry and, in turn, don’t show emotion themselves. They could bury it and possibly explode to a seemingly unrelated situation or breakdown in private. These are all things you need to know to deepen your characters and assign them believability. By knowing your character’s emotional make-up you, as the author, will be able to convey them even stronger on the page. They will take on a breath of life through their words, thoughts, and actions.

3) Write a scene (or more than one) in first person point of view with the character you’re endeavoring to know better. Doing so really puts you in their mind and lets you see things, people, and situations through their eyes.

4) Closely related to number two, characters grow and develop the more you write them, so when they encounter a situation they never have before, how do they react? Really dig deep to answer that and you will get to know them more.

5) Keep writing. There’s no doubt we know our characters intimately by the end of a book. Most times we don’t want to let them go. Use this deeper knowledge when you go back through to edit and re-write.

Now, get writing. : )

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