As many as 60% of writers say their characters “take over” the writing. Or the characters become so real they “talk” to the writer. With luck and hard work, you too can enjoy the depth and nuance this brings to your writing.
Flesh out the characters you already have and originate others.
As you create and develop characters, ask what purpose they serve.
Let’s look at types of supporting characters:
The Sidekick, Best Friend, or Foil Character
A friend and ally of the lead character and is typically also a contrast. For example, if the lead character is thoughtful and deliberate, this character tends to be more talkative and spontaneous.
Contrasting your characters helps to invigorate your story.
Love Interest or Lover
In the romance genre, this character plays a central role. In other genres, they provide a source of motivation, support, tension, and comfort.
Guide, Teacher, or Mentor
A character who advises, trains, and counsels the protagonist. Since the lead character faces many dilemmas in the narrative (which are necessary for creating conflict and tension), he or she needs someone to guide them.
Gatekeepers or Threshold Guardians
These characters test the protagonist’s commitment to resolve the central conflict or pursue what they want. They are not necessarily adversarial or “bad.” It may be entirely understandable why they don’t make it easy for the lead character to forge ahead or access needed resources.
Family, Community, or Tribe
These characters share a bond with the protagonist. They are usually supportive but could also punish or betray the lead character.
They might also serve to raise the stakes. For example, they could face a threat of harm by the central conflict. This applies to all characters who share a bond with the protagonist.
These characters assist the protagonist because they share a common goal. At some point, however, they could oppose the lead character or part ways. In some cases, strong bonds could develop, leading to friendship or romance.
Rivals compete with the lead character. The level of conflict they provide could be mild, humorous, or severe.
Agents of the Opposing Force
These characters are aligned with the central conflict or main antagonist. The lead character has to face them one by one before finally tackling the biggest challenge.
Your story’s most significant characters are likely to fit into one of the above categories or a mix of them.
They’ve been presented here in the context of their relationship with the protagonist. This helps to answer the question of their purpose. As you develop them, however, treat them as protagonists in their own pursuance of goals.
Try this YouTube playlist for more on character types and creating characters.
For more reading, try “Book One: Mapping The Journey” in The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler.
Ready for the exercise?
Keep this tab open in case you need to refer to it while completing the exercise.