I am having trouble caring about my supporting cast. The only person who feels like a ham at all in my book is the MC but she isn't the only important character. I have like 9 characters in the book. How can I make the others feel more real?
Before we go into making side characters feel more real, there’s a few reflective questions that might help you think deeper about your own personal character creation process…
- How did you come up with your main character?
- What about them appeals to you?
- What attributes have you given them which the side character’s lack?
- Have you put as much time into your MC as your side characters?
- If you had to list your MC’s personality traits, likes, goals, and quirks, would your side characters have the same number as your MC does?
- Why did you choose these particular attributes for your side characters? Do you like them those attributes? What happens to the character if you change them?
A few things that might help you make your side characters feel more real…
Side characters are wonderful because you can give them all sorts of odd habits and characteristics without the hassle of managing those things in a narrating character.
- Characters who never speak and characters who never shut up.
- Characters who are overly optimistic about everything and characters who could find something to complain about in any situation.
- Characters who steal things without reason and characters who would give away the shirt of their back.
- Characters who are obsessed with ridiculous things, and characters who notice weird details.
- Characters who crack the same type of awful joke constantly and characters who use nonsense metaphors.
- Character with pretty much any attribute that’s larger then life or taken to the extreme.
2. Dissect the Dialogue.
If you take three pieces of dialogue from each side character and put them in a random list, is it possible to tell who says what? When all side characters sound the same, they can often stop feeling real simply because they’re not distinctive.
3. Appearance Matters.
How you describe your side characters can have a huge impact on (and be hugely impacted by) how fleshed out the character is. Attributes the character was born with should never be their only descriptors. Find parts of their appearance that say something about who they are as a person.
Over-dramatic outfits. Bad posture. Broken noses. Piercings, scars, tattoos. Abnormal resting expressions (the “bitch face” or an eternal mischievous grin). Crooked glasses. Miss-cut hair. Pristine manicures. Obsessive color coordination. Hand-me-down clothes. Tan lines.
The list is endless.
4. Cut out the Cardboard.
Side characters might not be as fleshed through as the main character, but they still deserve attention. Once you have an idea of what sort of character they will be, flesh them out properly. Put them in embarrassing situations. Examine how they handle failure vs success. Push them to their limits. Build them up and break them.
Work these scenarios in your head, in role plays, or on paper. You might even try writing from the character’s first person perspective.
Use whatever means you need to take them out of their plot relevance and view them as the main character of their own story. Every person believes to some extent that they are the center of the universe. So should your side characters.
5. And Finally: Don’t forget to check why do you need a character fulfilling this role to begin with.
If you combine this side character with another side character, or remove the side character entirely, what happens within the plot?