We put so much effort into crafting our protagonists that it’s easy to forget about the all-important supporting cast. But a great protagonist without great companions will still fall short so make sure you give enough time to developing these side characters or the believability of your work will crumble. There’s countless ways that a supporting character can fail… or succeed! But here are the three types of ‘bad’ supporting character that I see appearing most often.
I call this type of character ‘the journalist’, not because of their occupation, but because they seem to exist with the sole purpose of interviewing the protagonist. Every piece of dialogue is a question designed to move the plot forward and develop the main character, while the journalist themselves remains two-dimensional with no real story of their own. A plot device character like this is visible a mile off and can be very off-putting.
Not only will this type of character be dislikeable in their own right, but some of that might rub off on your main character too. “Why is this conversation focused only on the protagonist – doesn’t she want to stop talking about herself for just a few minutes?” your readers will cry. Unless your main character is actually giving an interview, it will come across as egotistic for them to allow the conversation to revolve around themselves, without ever taking a pause to get to know their conversation partner.
This all-powerful companion will always be around to dig your protagonist out of dilemmas that you just couldn’t write your way out of. Your band of heroes is being chased down the mountainside by a giant boulder? The God melts it with their laser vision. Your protagonist’s path is blocked by a pack of vicious beasts? No problem – the God used to be a lion tamer, so of course, he can overpower them. This type of character will take any tension out of your plot because there will no longer be any close calls or insurmountable challenges. And as such characters will rarely have any major faults, you can rule out believability too.
In my experience, characters like this tend to come about when a writer realises they have created a God-type protagonist. They’re smart enough to know that a perfect protagonist is boring but to avoid a major re-write they just end up shifting these invincible traits to one of the side-kicks, which really doesn’t fix much. Each character needs a fatal weakness. Several, in fact. That’s what makes a story exciting.
It’s the oldest trick in the book – interest in a story is beginning to fade so how does the writer fix it? Well, just bring a popular character back from the dead, of course! Except that doing this without a good reason will have a similar effect as the God character – the tension is gone because the threat of danger and death is lessened. If a dead character can be brought back just like that, why should the reader worry next time the plot becomes perilous?
I can’t say from the bottom of my heart that this should never be attempted. Just writing this is making me wistful over all the great, killed-off characters that I would love to see again. But if you do chose to reanimate a dead character, just make sure you have a good excuse. None of this “they were brought back by the power of love” rubbish. It’s preferable to have a plot point this big planned from the start so that you can set up a strong enough premise to justify it. But if that isn’t possible, the next best thing is to make it absolutely clear in the plot that this is the exception to the rule; just because this character came back doesn’t mean that everyone in your story is now invincible.
So that’s the negativity out of the way; next week, I’ll be writing about three types of supporting character that can make your novel shine. In the meantime, I hope you enjoyed this article; if you did, please click like and follow.