Any discussion about writing a book will often emphasize the importance of characters – the people that inhabit a story and essentially drive its moving parts. The best stories often have the best characters.  These fictional beings are not only realistic but they are also well rounded and easily relatable. In fact, when it comes to writing a book, the effort you inject into creating your characters will often manifest in the quality of your story.

The Importance of Supporting Characters

Supporting characters, the individuals that surround the protagonists and antagonists of any story, rarely receive the attention they deserve. This is despite the fact that any author writing a book can expect to encounter little more than disaster if they stumble in their efforts to create intriguing supporting characters.

Minor characters typically have a brief or modest role in a story, but they contribute to the intrigue of the story or the development of main characters. Minor as they might be in some cases, the mark of a great story and, hence, a great book, is a well-rounded cast.  The characters must not only be distinct but they should also play a notable role in the plot of the story.

Plot Advancement

When writing a book, the minor characters of your story should play a major role in driving the plot forward. Protagonists are often forced into the spotlight, seemingly advancing the flow of the story, yet they typically do little more than react to events.  It’s the surrounding cast that make the magic happen.  They are the ones who create the conflict necessary for propelling these events forward. Without the presence of well-rounded minor characters, a story can grow stale, repetitive and stagnant.  The inclusion of these important individuals, their reactions, and various interactions, allow the story to advance.

Theme Development

The protagonists and antagonists of any story are typically very immobile characters, capable of doing little more than following a direct path to the climax of any given plot.   They tread their course fulfilling the roles heroes and villains are expected to play by engaging one another. It often falls to the minor characters to essentially develop and support the themes of the story. It is their interactions and the roles they play within the vicinity of the primary characters that allows an author to truly delve into the themes he wishes to bring to light.

Character Development

More often than not, the characters surrounding the main character act as his or her foil. It is by contrasting them with a wider cast of characters that the traits of the main characters begin to shine. Main characters can only stand out in any given story when they are among supporting characters who can challenge them and with whom they can be compared.  

Supporting characters also help balance character traits. For example, to show the softer side of a hardboiled police detective, give him a pregnant wife or kids; or a no-holds barred sidekick. It’s by applying the old adage “opposites attract” that causes the protagonists’ strongest attributes to manifest.

Exposition

Main characters are typically reactionary in the role they play. They wait for events to happen and take action accordingly.  It’s even common for main characters to act as the eyes of the audience into a world they are wholly unfamiliar with.  It therefore often falls upon minor characters to deliver exposition and impart vital information that is necessary to advance the story.

When writing a book, developing effective minor characters can be challenging. While they are often ignored and seldom receive the praise they deserve, the presence of supporting characters or lack thereof can have a drastic impact on the quality of a book.  So take your time crafting the intricate characteristics of your supporting cast. Your choice in doing so may determine whether your story reaches its true potential or flounders and disappoints. 

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