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Developing Supporting Characters

I have been accused in the past of having too many characters in my novels. Why do I put them there, even if they only get a few mentions? I write series fiction and these characters, however small, will return in later novels. Like real life, we all have a cast of people that run through and around the fabric of our lives. Some of these are peripheral and will remain that way, while others can gain importance in our lives and influence how we behave.


In a story, I am trying to create a changing storyline which drives the actions of my main character. One person’s ambition may influence the main characters life for good or bad. These supporting characters are a backdrop to the main action; they are there to add depth and colour. They can be funny or make things darker with their response. Using them to link scenes is also another way to draw the storylines together.



They say you can always judge a person by the company they keep, so the supporting characters can illustrate the nature of the main character. The best part of having a big supporting cast is that you can plant characters, in small roles, with the full intention of bringing them back in later storylines in a much bigger role. Like unexploded bombs they can tick away in the background until the moment you need them; the ultimate call back. When you write series fiction, these call backs are solid gold. Plant them wisely and you can grow the tension as they develop in the background. Having a huge palate when you paint a big supporting cast is going to enable the writer to go off in any direction they want. It’s an insurance policy to avoid a narrow plotline and repeating yourself. Just don’t let them get out of control, or have too many for you to control.


Next post in this series - Character Arcs

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