This week I’ve received a comment about secondary characters, and more specifically, how many characters should support your protagonist? In truth, every story is individual; Game of Thrones notoriously has a large cast of characters, whilst The Martian focuses solely on the plight of the protagonist for the best part of the story.
Therefore the plot holds the key to such questions, a better question to consider would be; how can I create context for the MC struggles? What internal or external circumstances, characters or environment will best serve and/or antagonise my protagonist? How can you help develop your protagonists story arc?
Secondary characters can provide powerful purposes within our stories. They can help to advance the plot in ways the protagonist cannot. They create conflict that stymies the protagonists journey. They can help to deepen the theme through dialogue, backstory and actions. Whilst help to reveal elements of worldbuilding through their individual point of view.
Here is a guide of the types of characters who may accompany your protagonist on their journey.
The sidekick – This character can also be the protagonists friend, or family member. Whilst they accompany the hero on his quest, they may well hinder, create conflict, become their confidant and most importantly add an element of comedy or surprise, just like Ron Wesley in Harry Potter.
The friend – The nurturing companion who is always available to lend a shoulder to cry on. They help the hero to realise their own path, to be there after conflicts to give them the strength to continue onwards. Hagrid from Harry Potter is a great example.
The mentor – The wise soul who gives council, hints at vital clues whilst offering training and experience to the young apprentice. Remember not to make the story too easy, your mentor should lead the protagonist to the answers without actually telling him how to solve the problems.
The love interest – Create romance and tension within the story by adding an element of romance. It stirs internal conflict driving your protagonist to explore new emotions. You could raise the stakes by forcing your protagonist to sacrifice something in order to save them. Or if romance is not central to your plot, maybe their love interest is merely a way to round out your character, a way to introduce their backstory and reveal another side to their personality.
The healer – When your character gets injured, or faces a time of great healing, they will require someone who can aid them. This type of character helps the protagonist recover and strengthen up before they move on with their journey. This flexible character will add a fresh dimension to the story as your protagonist fights to overcome their injury/ illness.
The Herold – This character will call the protagonist into action, starting them on their journey. They give instructions in the beginning, like Gandalf who sets Bilbo Baggins off in The Hobbit. Often the protagonists ignores, rebels, or simply persists the call to action until they’re forced to act.
The antagonist – Unlike all of the influencer characters the antagonists purpose is to create conflict, to prevent your protagonist from reaching his goals, to stay one step ahead until the climax of the story. Ultimately allowing the protagonist to grow, to improve, to reach a point where they can defeat or overcome the antagonist. They may take form as the bully, the irate boss, the murder your trying to track, or the power crazy queen who needs to be usurp.
The family – Families come in all forms, some supportive and others abusive. Inside each family the dynamic will vary depending on the types of characters involved. You may encounter the herald, the friend, the side kick, the antagonist and a love interest all within one family. We see such dynamic interactions in Hunger games when Katniss sacrifices herself to save her sister.
Have fun, get creative and play around with these side characters as a way to introduce conflict, obstacles, tension, support and stability.
Tell me, how many characters does your WIP have? And apart from your protagonist, who is your favourite and why? Don’t be shy, share your ideas, you know I love hearing from you.
Thanks for stopping by, until next time, Much Love.