For some, this may seem like a contradiction in terms. A memorable side character? What? The main characters are supposed to be memorable, not the side characters! They’re just supposed to support the main characters, right? They don’t serve a real purpose, right?
All correct…to an extent. Yes, main characters are supposed to be memorable. Yes, the side character’s main purpose is to support the roles of more popular ones. They don’t serve a very important role, it’s true, or otherwise they’d be main characters.
However, no aspect of your story is irrelevant. If it was important enough to be put in, then it’s important enough to get right. Side characters take significantly less work than main characters, but there are still a few tips to make them work out.
First of all: side characters usually do not get very much character insight. Keep it that way. Never try to make a peculiarly deep side character. Keep them shallow. This is the only time when you actually want to make a character in the story that is intentionally weaker in character.
However, don’t make them wooden. Keep their character shallow, but don’t make them loathsome or puppetlike. Add a little quirk to their character. After all, they need to be a legitimate part of the story. Consider adding a little something to a side character to make them a little more.
This us a big one: if you can, make them have a role in the story. Before you explode, I want to remind you that just because someone has a hand in the plot doesn’t mean that it’s a necessarily big part. However, by making them a part of the plot (albeit a small part) you show the reader that they do matter, only minimally.
This takes careful handling. It’s all too easy to create a character that becomes kind of a lukewarm half-main-character by giving them too much of an involvement for the story. To avoid this, try to keep side characters as helpful guides and friends: doctors, diplomats, informants, spies, and the like.
This way, you can build a mini-sympathy around a less important character. The glory that they get is more appropriate to their character. They don’t get under-appropriated or overdone. This is important, because you don’t want any of your characters to serve no purpose.
The trick is to avoid dead weight. Don’t make do-nothing characters. Main characters are the do-everythings, and side characters are the do-somethings. Craft their characters accordingly.
Now, you can avoid the side characters’ contact with the plot, but it just makes them even more on the sidelines. But, if you think that your side characters are in danger of becoming too important, feel free to index them elsewhere, away from the plot. However, if I can help it, I would prefer for the side characters to have some bearing on the plot’s innerworkings.
Good luck, and happy writing!
Be sure to check out my latest novel, Book 1 in the Praetors of Lost Magic Series, and our Publications page. Until then, writers!