Wednesday, November 21, 2012

5 Tips for Developing Supporting Characters

By Nancy Parker

JH: I'd like to welcome Nancy Parker to the blog today to share a little advice on developing those secondary characters. As important as our protagonist' are, they still need folks to help them shine.

Nancy was a professional nanny and she loves to write about wide range of subjects like health, Parenting, Child Care, Babysitting, nanny, etc. You can reach her @ nancy.parker015 @

Take it away Nancy...

When it comes to writing short stories, novels, and book series there is always one standout character: the main one. This person is who your readers are going to identify with throughout the entirety of your writing, and you likely have spent plenty of time developing this character into as close to a real person as you can. Where some writers falter, however, is in their development of the supporting characters. Some spend far too much time developing their supporting characters, and some spend far too little time doing so. Achieving a balance between the two, while difficult, isn’t impossible. When you begin to craft your supporting characters keep these tips in mind:

1. They deserve a little bit of backstory.

Your supporting characters need to have a little bit of background information on them given to the reader so that your reader can form some sort of relationship with them. Readers need to understand the relevance of the supporting characters, and the best way to do so is to provide them with some factors of the character’s life that occurred prior to the setting in the book.

2. They can’t compete with your main character. 

Another problem that many writers face is that their supporting characters can sometimes take on their own story entirely. They spend so much time crafting their main character’s sidekick that he starts to outshine the main character himself. When this starts to happen it’s a good idea to reevaluate your characters and see if your supporting character is better suited for the main stage.

3. They need a little personality. 

You should always give your supporting character her own personality so that your readers remember who she is. This is especially important in books that have a wide range of characters, because if the supporting character lacks a personality she’ll end up getting lost between the pages. Whether that means that she’s the witty one, the one who is always forgetful, or the one who fulfills the role of the snarky sidekick is all determined by what you void want her want her to fill within the story.

4. You can have too many supporting characters. 

You also want to stay away with placing too many supporting characters into your novel. When too many of them are running around it starts to get confusing and hard to follow, and readers have to spend too much time trying to remember who did what and why they’re relevant.

5. Let your minor character support your main character. 

Give your supporting character some traits that help him back up your book’s star. This doesn’t just make him memorable; it makes him relevant to the story. It can also help your reader differentiate between the two characters, usually because they are completely opposite in personality or in looks.

Minor characters and their development within a story are a tricky aspect of writing that many writers struggle with, and it usually goes one of two ways; writers either overdevelop their minor characters or they under develop them. While some development is necessary, it’s also important to remember that he’s playing the supporting role, so let him support!


  1. Thank you for these reminders! I really needed them, especially #4 :)

  2. Thanks for the tips, especially #1 and #3.

    Happy Thanksgiving to both of you.

  3. I love No. 2! I actually had this problem with the first version of my second book, I think. I had a whole separate arc for one of the supporting characters that really didn't advance the plot well at all.

  4. Number 5 is the one I have trouble with, in the overdeveloped category.

  5. Excellent tips. I've been guilty of letting supporting characters outshine the MC. The problem was more with the MC than them.

  6. I'm still trying to work out who the main character is in Game of Thrones? Is there a single main stand out character?

    1. I don't think so, but Tyrion does seem to be the most likely.