Five Steps to Make a Kick-Ass Supporting Cast

March 10, 2017     Michelle     Writing

We all know that supporting characters can make or break a book. While a book with a moderately ok supporting cast can certainly survive, and even thrive, it’s the books with stunning supporting characters that really stand out.

How does one accomplish this?

Don’t worry! I’ve created a step-by-step guide that is sure to give you FLAWLESS results. I promise.

(Simple, really! You can’t fail!)

Step 1: What Roles are Critical vs Nice-to-haves?

The first decision you have to make is who will be in your supporting cast. Of course, there are some people you have to have, and these folks should be the focus of your attention. It’s also important to keep in mind that sometimes we’re creating characters just for the hell of it, and sometimes those become distracting. You don’t want your readers to focus on a character who doesn’t really go anywhere or do anything. The nice-to-haves can exist, but downplay them.

Step 2: How does each character in your cast contribute to the plot or development?

So you’ve figured out WHO is important. Now it’s time to really solidify what MAKES them important. REMEMBER those roles. And make sure each character fulfills them. Yes, they can do random things that don’t always go in that direction, but MOST of their interactions should help progress the story. Either by contributing to the plot or facilitating character development.

Step 3: Know their backstories.

EVERYONE should have a solid background. You might not need to write it all down or share their entire story, but the better YOU know their background, the more solid your portrayal of each supporting character will be. You want them to be consistent, of course, but most importantly, you want them to feel like REAL people, and not just props to move the story along.

Step 4: Show their motives & aspirations.

Everyone has goals. And everyone makes decisions  that will move them towards their goals. The better you understand and can portray your supporting casts goals, the more robust and lively they will feel. And if decisions made by the supporting cast become integral to the plot, make SURE they are understandable decisions.

Step 5: Don’t forget about them.

Sometimes I think this is the hardest! Once a supporting character has fulfilled their critical role, don’t forget about them! They are a PART of the story, so you have to give them some resolution as well. Either touch base with them periodically throughout the rest of the book, or create an emotional attachment between them and the reader and kill them off. Either way, conclude THEIR story just as delicately as you would the main character’s story.

There you have it! You’re all experts now 😉

What tips do you have? Any other considerations we should all keep in mind?

  • Thank you so much for writing this, this is really, really helpful and I’ll read this again as I re-shape my WIP and re-think about all of my characters. I want them all to feel real and I’m not always sure how to do that, or if I am doing it right. Lovely post!

    • Michelle

      I’m glad you found it helpful! It’s definitely something I need to work on myself, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately; hence this post 🙂

  • I’ve noticed that some authors just seem to have a knack for doing a great job with side and background characters and really making them feel just as real as the main characters. These are great tips to accomplish that!

    • Michelle

      It’s so true — some authors are PHENOMENAL about it, and I feel like the ones who do THIS well are the ones that REALLY stand out among the great books. 😀

  • I love this!! SO HELPFUL. I think my favourite thing when reading is seeing secondary characters with lives of their own…and like goals to accomplish. It makes them so much more real and complex and not seeming to be there just to revolve around the precious protagonist’s life. 😂 My trouble is always killing off all my secondary characters and then having no one left to use in sequels…*whistles innocently*

    • Michelle

      Haha, killing them off really would have the potential to keep them from staying interesting in sequels. But sometimes killing them off is WAY more fun! I too have this problem 😛

  • Awesome post! I think a lot of authors spends so much time working on their main characters that the supporting cast can end up being a bit bland, so these are definitely some useful tips.
    I especially like what you say about their motives and aspirations. It’s so easy just to have side characters following along with the main character as they try to reach their goal, but every character is the hero of their own story, so they need their own goals and aspirations 🙂

    • Michelle

      Indeed! I recently realized that I had been neglecting my side characters too much, so I’ve been spending a LOT of time recently trying to understand them and get a feel for where they’re coming from. Just thinking about them has already made my world feel so much more tangible!

  • The not forgetting them part is a critical point I’ve seen some authors forget. 🙂 Great post!

    • Michelle

      They can be sooo easy to forget about! It’s like “You were useful, and now you’re not. And since I don’t know what to do with you, I’ll just stop writing you.” And it’s certainly not intentional!

  • I think it’s helpful to think in terms of archtypes like sidekick, mentor, etc. At least you’ll know what role each character plays in the story. The trick is not to fall into stereotypes like the sidekick has to be funny or ditzy.

    • Michelle

      That’s a really great tip as well! I struggle a bit more with that one personally because so often (surprise!) my characters end up not fitting those same roles by the end of the book.