Hey Writing Habits, do you have any tips or links for writing side characters? Keeping the little guys as interesting as the big ones, as it were?
Your side characters have their own backgrounds. Fleshing those out will help you a lot in figuring out what they can do and when. Even if you end up with thirty pages of notes that will never see the light of day - or more! - getting to know them will help you a lot in making them interesting.
Your side characters are not aware they are side characters. Everybody else is starring in their story. They’re not going to drop everything just to be there in time to provide a key plot point or helpful hint. They have to behave naturally, and within their own interests.
What we don’t know can be just as interesting as what we do. Having some mysteries remain about your side characters can make them just as memorable as the main ones. Why didn’t Shelly cry at her mom’s funeral? Why was the secretary willing to risk her job to help the detective? Hinting at their motives - or leaving characters wondering at them - can help make them more real.
That said, giving them motives is super important. Shortcuts and stock characters leave much to be desired. As a writer, you can do better than that. The girl who gets with the guy at the end is just that, a stock character. The girl who gets with the guy at the end because they really like each other or because of Some Other Reason just got more interesting.
Hope these help!
There’s no point having a story by the end of which the reader will know who your main character is and what he’s about.
You may think that the purpose of the story is to reveal this and that’s it’s intriguing for the reader not to be too sure where a character’s loyalties lie. That would be wrong.
Did you have a good idea of what kind of person Harry was before he got to Hogwart’s? Did you have a reasonable idea about Katniss before she got to the games?
The initial part of a story is to tell the reader the character’s values and beliefs. Once things kick off, then it’s time to test those values and beliefs.
Nobody likes a perfect character. Someone who is super good at everything and gets everything right is annoying.
Even the most suave secret agents of indestructible superheroes need to make mistakes in order to make the story interesting.
There are two parts to using wrongness in a story. There’s the actual mistake (which sometimes isn’t known to be a mistake at the time), and there’s the consequences of the mistake, usually forcing the character to deal with powerful feeling of guilt or regret.
In the constant battle of ‘showing vs telling’, describing your character’s emotions is one place that telling can sneak into your writing.
Think about the physical effects of emotions in order to show how your character is feeling.
Don’t say they are nervous - show them refusing food, or repeatedly going to the toilet. Show them tapping their feet, drumming their hands, pacing the room. Show them checking their watch over and over, playing with their hair, or biting their lip.
Don’t say they are sad - show them retreating to their bedroom, show them listening to sad songs, or not paying attention to the television in front of them. Show them hugging a pillow, hiding under the duvet, writing angsty poetry. Show them crying, wailing, shaking, rocking. Show them eating ice cream, chocolate, cake.
Don’t say they are excited - show them chattering away, jumping up and down, clapping their hands. Show them grinning, laughing, hugging their friends. Show them dancing, running in circles, doing cartwheels.
Don’t just tell your readers what your characters are feeling; show them the physical effects of the emotion - physical effects that your readers can relate to. It will make your characters more real, more animated, and it will bring your readers closer to them.
Character development thing.
Plot points on this chart to represent how important these different aspects of a character’s life are to them. By doing that you can help determine what type of things your character deems to be most meaningful in their life, especially compared to others aspects.
A brief explanation of each aspect is below in case you’re confused about the meaning of any.
- Strength: to have physical power and strength
- Sex: to have sexual gratification and satisfaction
- Possessions: to have objects and tangible things
- Health: to have physical health and stability
- Appearance: to have a good external appearance
- Love: to love and be loved, romantically or otherwise
- Appreciation: to be appreciated by others
- Attention: to be paid attention to
- Security: to feel secure emotionally
- Approval: to be approved by others
- Respect: to be respected
- Friendship: to have friends
- Intimacy: to be intimate with a partner or partners
- Belongingness: to feel needed and belonged
- Family: to be on good terms with/have a family
- Inner peace: to be content with themselves
- Purpose: to feel as though they are fulfilling a purpose
- Self-sufficiency: to feel that they are able to provide for themselves
- Growth: to feel as though they are growing and changing
- Acceptance: to be able to accept themselves without consequence
This is an absolutely amazing exercise and I certainly recommend doing it.
How to write Guilt. -C
Hmm, okay. Guilt is something I know a lot about.
Everyone experiences guilt differently. Like, for me, guilt is amplified and often misplaced due to anxiety and depression. I feel bad about really dumb pointless things.
There are different levels of guilt, too. A kid feeling guilty about a lie is different from guilt for hurting a friend or something.
A character may have differing physical reactions to guilt. They might feel nauseous or uneasy. People may become defensive.
One portrayal of guilt I really like would be The Doctor. (Ignoring the recent events with the 50th special.)
Aside from the pain of destroying his people, there are plenty of times when the Doctor fails to save someone. That guilt lingers and stays and you can see how it affects him.
Another character who shows guilt would be Aang from Avatar the Last Airbender. He feels guilt. He left his people because he was afraid, and his people suffered. He’s a really child-like character, but he’s someone who has a lot of regrets and has to grow up very quickly.
Feeling guilt is not pleasant at all, and people can be good at repressing it or denying their feelings.
People can feel guilty about things completely out of their control, too. It’s a really complicated emotion.
Thank you, Mandark!
More links for guilt:
Hurray learning things about guilt! *confetti*
Your readers are going to want to know about your character’s past and how it has shaped the way they are in your novel. You’re most likely going to have to explain some sort of past event that’s important to the current narrative. I’m not saying that your character’s past defines them, but there will be events that lead them up to the action in your novel or explain something that’s going to happen to them in the future. As a writer, you need to learn how to integrate your character’s memories or past stories into your novels.
Bringing up your character’s memories is not necessarily the same as writing flashbacks. Your character might speak of something from their past that has had a significant impact on where your character ends up. If your character brings up something in conversation with someone else, it’s best not to reveal everything all at once. You don’t want your character to say something like—
“Yeah, well, he’s probably after me because I accidently hit his girlfriend with a car when I was seventeen. That might be why he’s after me. Oh yeah, he warned me he was going to come after me about a year ago. I guess I forgot. That could explain why he’s so angry with me.”
Not only is this dialogue a no-no, but you’re giving way too much information at once that could have been explained earlier. This is not a good way to reveal memories and it will feel like a last minute edition to your story. Your readers will think you were stuck and came up with someone the spot. While it’s not a horrible idea to come up with something off the top of your head, you can’t do it when it’s an integral part of the story.
Finding a good way to weave your character’s backstory in your novel is of upmost importance. Take your time to make it feel natural and have information revealed over time, instead of all at once. For example, the paragraph up top could be fixed if the character had genuinely forgotten about the incident with the antagonist’s girlfriend. Maybe he has memory loss from the accident or there was something that had made him forget (he blocked it out, went to therapy, etc.) Find a way to make your story compelling and keep your readers interested in why something is happening.
Wattpad brings you a guest post from Bethany Myers, on creating great villains in literature.
You can read her novel “The Busgirl Blues” free on Wattpad:
Sometimes the best matches are the ones you least expect.
What Every Villain Needs