7 Tips to Raising Supporting Characters to the Spotlight

Lego Robin (Also Lego Batman)

When writing a long series with multiple characters, you’re bound to have a few that stay in the background.  They get to do some things and a few big scenes, but you forget to draw them out.  At least until an adventure comes up and you realize that they’re perfect for the job.  That’s what happens in War of NytefallOf course, the challenge is that they’re seen as supporting characters, so the spotlight might not fit them perfectly.  Adjustments must be made in some fashion to make sure it works.  So, what can you do?

  1. Even though the characters have been around, you shouldn’t take for granted that the audience knows them.  They may be an afterthought and barely remembered since they haven’t done much.  Of course, you can’t go for a full introduction like you would for a new one.  Accept that the basics such as name and general description are recognizable.  Then work from there by utilizing their skills, powers, and fleshing out their personality.  This can be done at a faster pace than normal because you already have the foundation.
  2. Keep in mind that these characters might not be expecting to be given the reins of an adventure.  They may be more prone to make mistakes and get lost than the more established heroes.  Consider that they were supporting or used less often for a reason, which was because they’re rather nuanced in abilities and focus.  This means that they’re lacking leadership experience in some fashion.  Don’t make them inept, but have them stumble with their new responsibilities.
  3. This is the perfect time to get these characters to grow.  A reason they might be stunted or evolving slower than others is because they were overshadowed.  We’re back to that lack of experience.  Well, here’s that experience they need to become a stronger character for the rest of the series.  Even if it doesn’t make them complete equals with the heavier hitters, they have to be better.  If not for them then for the fans they may make with this adventure.
  4. Have them solve the problems in their own way.  These characters are entering the spotlight for a reason.  Their skills and habits are what you have deemed necessary for this adventure.  They might have to expand their skills and push through their current limits, but they are the heroes for the job.  If they’re solving things the way the other characters do and meeting no resistance then you’ve wasted an opportunity.  Worse, you’ve destroyed a character because they can never be anything more than a shadow of others since they showed no individuality.
  5. Allow them to see their paths to the end and don’t hand the journey off to one of the bigger characters.  That’s an insult to them.  Even if they’re only doing this to help their stronger friends get into a better position for the final battle, you need to make this adventure theirs alone.  Think of it this way:  You’re writing your book and it’s guaranteed to get you success.  You’re on your way and starting to get attention.  Then, the last chapter is snatched by an established author, who is given top credit and you get a tiny thank you in the back.  Not fun.
  6. Don’t throw them away as soon as your done.  If they die then you don’t have a choice, but they should still be mentioned.  After all, these are characters who have actually been there, but now they’re getting attention.  This doesn’t guarantee success or survival, but it should lead to them having an impact on the story and the other characters.  Otherwise, what’s the point of them?
  7. Have as much fun with it as possible.  Using a supporting character for a big adventure can create curiosity with minimal expectations.  Nobody will be sure how things will go, but they’ll know that things will be different.  Mistakes can be epic and funny without being costly.  Successes can be unexpected and confusing even to the characters.  There may be a lot at stake in the story, but that doesn’t mean it has to be dry, serious, and dire.  Throwing a little fun, even without comedy, can go a long way.

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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19 Responses to 7 Tips to Raising Supporting Characters to the Spotlight

  1. V.M.Sang says:

    A few good points here, Charles. Especially having them do things in their own way and perhaps make mistakes through inexperience.

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  2. Reblogged this on Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog and commented:
    More great writing advice from, Charles 👍😃

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  3. L. Marie says:

    Would you say that Delvin was a supporting character until he rose to the forefront in Mercenary Prince?
    Great tips by the way. I guess a supporting character needs just the right story to take the spotlight.

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    • Delvin is a tough one because we’re talking an ensemble cast. All 6 champions were supposed to be on equal footing in terms of the story. Delvin being a milder temperament and the tactician meant that he wasn’t as large a personality, but I’d stay say he was a primary. Mercenary Prince simply gave him a time to shine as an individual instead of a team member.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. All great advice, Charles. I like the “don’t throw them away” piece of advice too.

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  5. These all seem like great suggestions to me.

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  6. Reblogged this on Author Don Massenzio and commented:
    Check out this helpful post from Charles Yallowitz with 7 Tips to Raising Supporting Characters to the Spotlight from his Legends of Windemere blog.

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  7. I do enjoy when the secondary characters get a chance to shine.

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  8. raynayday says:

    Good advice methinks (lol- and advice I should pay attention too) makes sense to me.

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