Most instruction about character in novels is centered around the protagonist. But what about the main character’s trusty sidekick?
Writing Tip for Today: While on first glance this person is Little John to Robin Hood or Tonto to the Lone Ranger, a supporting character has more importance than you might think.
- Gives the main character someone to talk to; keeps the protagonist from being alone on stage. We’ve talked about how difficult it can be to sustain a novel if the character is alone a lot of the time. The story becomes a soliloquy, very internal and a disaster in all but the most skilled hands. Sometimes a supporting character is an animal (Gentle Ben, Lassie) or even a soccer ball (Wilson in Cast Away).
- Makes the protagonist look good. An effective supporting character is careful not to upstage the protagonist. Sometimes, when the protag is unreliable or isn’t the best choice, this character becomes the narrator (although it isn’t his story) as Watson in Sherlock Holmes or Ishmael to Captain Ahab in Moby Dick.
- A memorable supporting character gives depth, interest and authenticity to a story. What would Frodo do without the various secondary characters he travels with? Can we really imagine Harry Potter without Hermione? The key is that you don’t create a character so memorable that the reader loses interest in the main story.