More often than not, the side characters are better than the main characters.
You may find this a curious statement to make. The main character is the centre of attention, so why are side characters better? It all comes down to creative freedom. I am going to tell you what you need to know about side characters. Make them interesting, make them powerful and here is how!
A writer has freedom with writing side characters. Side characters don't have the same burden as the main character.
The main character has a role to play, an important one. Yet, the side character is only a small interaction along the way. A writer can create wonderful side characters that can build the story or entertain the reader. In doing so, the writer can create a character which appeals to a more specific reader.
For example, I often enjoy sarcastic personalities. Such amusing personalities don't do so well as the main character. The main character has a greater trait, a more story oriented trait. Yet, when a side character can chirp some sarcasm in any given situation, I like them.
Now, in no way should the main character bland. Every writer can agree that a bland main character is the worst part of any book. Yet, by having more interesting side characters, it does the book good.
Here are some reasons why interesting side characters improve any novel:
Firstly, the world in any fiction needs to be a living place. People should have their own lives, their own interests. At no point should you imply that the world revolves around the main character. Too often authors make this mistake, placing everything on the main character's shoulders. It isn't the case in any believable world.
Secondly, conflict is the foundation of development. Arguments, fights and even discussions can push a story in the right direction. Besides, it also helps develop the characters, help grow as the story goes.
Thirdly, everyone holds a variety of emotions close to their heart. Some are more blunt, some like to beat around the bush. Whether a side character is good or bad, they can be great if they're unique. Side characters are perfect for bringing such variety to your story.
Fourthly, the pacing of any story is difficult to set, but not with side characters. Side characters have their own stories, their own desires. As such, you can write fantastic stories that happen in the background of your novel. It's a great way to keep the reader invested if such a side-story is of any interest.
Side characters should always serve a purpose, in this story or the ones that follow. Otherwise, they are not worth mentioning.
Save yourself some time and only give names to characters who serve a purpose. When I say serve a purpose, I mean the character has an influence over the story. Either they push the main character forward or hold them back. Any character with no purpose is not a side character, they are a background character.
When you write a character walking down a street, you don't name everyone they pass on their way.
Background characters have no value to you, the reader or the characters in your story. As such, you should mention them to build a scene, but never go into specifics. If you keep this in mind, you can avoid creating any unnecessary side characters.
By that same token, if a character serves a greater purpose in the story, give them the credit they deserve. A character that influences the story or the main character deserves a name and a place in the story. Otherwise, it reads as bad writing to save your story.
That is the brilliance of side characters. Side characters make any journey interesting, with their personality or their goals.
Side characters are expendable. Meaning, no amount of plot armour can save them from their fate.
Stories involving death need side characters. You can kill any background character off for any reason you choose. Yet, a side characters needs to die with purpose. Shock factor is not a reason, it is the side-effect.
Killing side characters off can do so much good for your story and main characters. Here are some great reasons to keep in mind:
Any other reason to kill of a character is to force an emotion into the reader. Forcing such emotional feedback only falls flat. Killing off characters for the sake of 'thinning-the-herd' only serves to show laziness. A writer who introduces a side character should have a clear purpose for them in mind. Even comic-relief is a great reason to create a character.
If you bear their purpose in mind, you can evoke emotion in the reader if the character dies. A character who serves their purpose well, good or bad, will have a memorable death. As stated earlier, a side character with no purpose, is a background character. Background characters dying mean nothing to you or the reader.
Different side characters are a great way to appeal to a larger market.
A method that is becoming the norm in writing today is to make use of variety. Side characters make this easy. Side characters don't have the responsibility of the main characters. Thus, these characters can be unique without costing the story.
More readers becoming invested also results in more sales. Doing so presents the challenge of including such variety in the first chapters. Yet, it is worth the time and effort.
Side characters can take greater roles later in the story. A side character becoming a main character is both interesting and epic.
Yes, a side character can even develop to the point of becoming a main character. Such sequences in stories are difficult to write, but add depth to any novel. Side characters who started out simple can develop to the point where they take a grander role. It then comes down to you, the writer, to develop them as such.
The method involves removing a main character, making room for the side character. Doing so requires a side character who is deserving of the reader's time. That is the fantastic quality of a side character. If they are well-developed, they can carry the story forward.
The benefits of taking a side character this far are:
The only negative in doing this will be trying to keep the reader invested. If your reader is too invested in the first central character, you could lose the reader. A great example of this would be a Game of Thrones, a series of novels famous for killing of characters. Plenty of readers stopped reading (or watching) after certain character deaths.
That is the brilliance of side characters. These wonderful people or creatures that appeal to every reader. If you are working with a small selection of characters in your novel, this advice can fall short. For writers who create large, vibrant worlds, take these tips to heart. Each one will help you create an interesting side character to get your reader invested!
Thank you for finishing this article. I had a lot of fun writing it and I hope you truly enjoyed it. There are many things you will learn from the writing experience and the 150 above are only a few.
As a big thank you I would like to offer you something for FREE!
A writing course on how to improve your main character!
Click here to check it out your course.
In addition, if would like to receive more content, bonuses and some big discounts on future courses, join the writers group here.
Thank you very much for reading!
Matthew Dewey, Writer
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