Dealing with Side Characters

You know, Squiders, main characters are bad enough. They don’t do what you want them to do, or they forget the plot in a moment of passion, or you turn your back for a moment and they’ve decided being a bad guy sounds like a pretty good gig. But at least you know they’re important. When a scene goes the wrong way, at least they’re still in the center of it.

Side characters, however, are tougher. They walk a fine line between being important and being in the background. These are your sidekicks, your lackey bad guys, your friends and relations. They’re important to the characters somehow. They contribute to the plot…somehow. But they can’t do too much, or they become main characters. And they can’t do too little, or your reader wonders why they’re there.

It’s a hard line to tread. Each story, each plot, has different character needs. And very few novels can get away with no side characters at all. People, unfortunately, do not exist in a vacuum. And each side character provides their own issues. It might be your character’s mother, whom they obsess about constantly, but, in the end, provides little of use to either plot or characterization. It might be your character’s best friend, who is always around, providing witty banter, but isn’t there when your character needs her most so your reader wonders why you bothered to build her up so much. It might be the professor your character fights with the whole first half of the novel, only to disappear for the second half.

Unfortunately, there’s only one thing to do. You look at a side character, decide what they need to contribute to the plot, and then you either build them up so they fit their goal, or you dial them back (or, sometimes, get rid of them completely).

I’m having to do this right now. I’ve got a side character named Thor (yes, that Thor) that at the moment, sits on the cusp. I’m not quite sure which way he’s going to have to go to fit the story.

(Hopefully I will by the end of the day, though.)

Anything you’ve found helps with side characters, Squiders? Any you’re having issues with at the moment?

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