When you’re starting a new writing project, it’s likely that you’ll set up your story structure, jot down some plot lines, and make up a list of characters you want to include in your story. These characters are likely to be the main ones — your protagonist and your antagonist. Certainly, these are important people to have in your fictional world, but you also need some good supporting characters to round out the world and add depth to those main characters.
Supporting characters come in many shapes and sizes. They are parents of the protagonist, henchmen of the antagonist, friends, significant others, lackeys, even pets. It’s okay if these supporting characters are an afterthought when you’re planning out your story or writing up your first draft. But it’s important that you don’t allow them to turn into pieces of furniture. Yes, they may be in the background, but that doesn’t mean they should be cardboard cutouts.
It can be tough to create supporting characters who are believe and well-rounded. Chuck Wendig comes through with another great piece of advice, as he always does, this time about supporting characters. Chuck says that supporting characters deserve to get three beats in a story. That is, “every supporting character should appear for at least three beats in order to fulfill some kind of arc — even if it’s a subtle, small arc. A character that appears early on is best utilized again throughout the story, even if only in a minor way. These beats might be physical, tracking location and action. Or they might be intellectual and emotional, tracking that character’s change (growth/loss).”
Just as it can be difficult to create these supporting characters, it can also be difficult to keep them involved in your story. You might find yourself halfway through writing a novel when you remember that Stacey — your protagonist’s best friend — hasn’t been seen since chapter 2. This rule that Chuck Wendig lays out is a good guideline to follow if you want to bring those characters back into the story. When you’re outlining or jotting down those initial notes, reserve a separate page just for your supporting characters. Once you know who they are, plot out three instances in which they can appear to give them a fulfilling story arc. Hopefully, having those notes will help you remember that your supporting characters need to stick around.
— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan