Last week, I wrote about three types of supporting character that are ruining your novel. The grumpy old lady in me could probably have thought of a few more but I think it’s time for some positivity. So, instead, here are three types of supporting character that will make your novel shine.
If your protagonist has a very cautious and withdrawn personality, it may be too unbelievable for them to ever get in any trouble that could count as a plot. And if they are too adventurous and risky, they might get themselves killed before the end of the first chapter. But that doesn’t mean you can’t write protagonists like this; that would really limit your options when it comes to character types. Instead, your lead character needs a companion who can balance them out and nudge them into situations that wouldn’t be possible if they were on their own. This is The Balancer.
You may have several Balancers in your supporting cast and they can be hugely useful, not only for the sake of guiding the plot in a certain direction, but also for developing your characters in a satisfying and believable way. By using a balancing support character, your protagonist will be able to have some major and fatal flaws without being led to an inevitable, gruesome death. But do take care not to leave your band of heroes with no weaknesses between them. As a team, your characters should be strong enough to get though the manuscript in one piece (unless you are going for a tragic ending, which is a whole different discussion), but there should be plenty of suspense and close-calls along the way.
This type of supporting character isn’t suitable for every story, but having a believable traitor in the cast can really shake things up and create renewed interest in the other characters too. It’s up to you whether you opt for the type of traitor that was suspicious from the start or one that comes completely by surprise. But either way, it serves as a great reminder to your readers that there is still more to learn about the cast.
Readers will tend to observe your other characters’ actions and decisions in much closer detail for a short time after you reveal the traitor, so this can be an opportune time to scrub your character development or throw in scraps of backstory.
As I discussed in my article about Hiding the Monster, there’s a lot of benefit to be had when you keep information from your reader. Monsters become all the more frightening when you only catch a glimpse of them as the reader is picturing the scariest thing they can imagine. The Unknown character is something like the good-guy version of such a monster. Done right, this type of supporting character will leave the reader intrigued and desperate to learn any small thing you are willing to reveal about them. But be careful that in withholding information, you don’t give the impression that you have simply forgotten to develop this character or your readers will instead be questioning why they are included at all.
The best path to a successful Unknown character is to have a strong premise behind them. There should be a sound-bite of information that peaks the reader’s interest and gives the character some basic identity such as “reclusive genius who only leaves his mansion at midnight to collect moondrop flowers” or something similar. Your premise should also raise questions with the readers which they can look forward to answering later in the story.
It is also possible to use this type of character as a protagonist but you will likely find this much more difficult to pull off as you will be forced to use so much page-time on this character that the mystery may soon be lost.
So there’s three types of supporting character very close to my heart. Let me know if you think I’ve missed some big ones. If you enjoyed this article, please click like and follow, and join me again next week when I will be talking about character naming.