Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Ahoy, thee, support

And with this post I'll be done with characters and possibly move to plotting or other such things. I mentioned last week that I wanted to take care of support characters. So here I am, true to my promise :)

The unhappy part is... I don't do support. I mean, literally, I kinda suck at support characters. Because if I spend too much time on them, I get attached and then want to give them a life story and a girlfriend and... you can see where I'm going with this, don't you?
So, it got me thinking. What exactly is a support character? What makes the difference between them and the MCs? And why, oh why does that piece of pie look so appealing... okay, I just derailed there.

What's a support character?

The truth is, I don't know. I suspect it's a character who isn't exactly kicking the plot along. So I'm sticking with that.
In discovering my inner compass for less significant characters, I turned to my WIP Hunters - why did I do that? Probably because it doesn't have one million characters like my YA series. So, I found that most of my secondary characters are there for... two chapters tops. Huston, we have a problem.
Eventually, after digging a bit deeper, I found Justin. He's the only support I believe matters. He's a wraith - a vile smoke particle floating about in misery until someone buys him a ticket home. He does have a purpose to the plot - he helps/unhelps Daniel and Rachel quite a lot.
Therefore, I deduced that's what a support character does - interferes in the lives of the MCs, gives the plot a little kick and provides some entertainment for the reader.

Support versus the big pile of extra characters

I have a big pile of characters in my YA series - counted over thirty in the first volume alone. I have five MCs plus girlfriends plus villains and a backup team. Out of all of these people, I only think of one person as fitting the bill to be the support character - Billy - cousin of the MCs.
And here is where my logic fails me. The girls aren't MCs - actually, they have nothing to do with the major plot (Billy's more involved in that) - sure they do provide bait and reasons for fights and self sacrifice - but I can't put them in support either. They seem too important - so they go into the (cleverly labeled) girls category.
The rest of the backup team seems of too little importance (so far) to toss them into the support pile. They don't do enough for the MCs (from which I'm deducing that I take the term support literally). So they fall into the big pile of characters category.
The character pyramid

This is how I see things at least. After a lot of thinking, I realized I don't have that many support characters and that all the imaginary people I put on paper tend to jump from one floor to the next, including my darling MCs.

And, for that purpose, I'll give you an example: Jerry. Jerry's supposed to be a main character. And he'll end up being one - he's part of the big plot and helps it roll along. Only that, in the first volume, he's more likely support. He doesn't get all that much screen time or have such a big contribution to the plot.
Sure, he saves a couple of lives, but who doesn't in my book?

In the first volume, Billy hardly fits into support. He's somewhere on the line of the big pile of characters. Not to mention that one of the girls will fall from the Girls/Girlfriends category straight to random people on the street.

Support versus MC

This doesn't dwell well either, seeing as my people jump around on that carefully drawn (*cough* paint *cough*) pinnacle of wisdom.
I guess, the way I see it, the main difference is  that, at the end of it all, the reader won't spend nights thinking how the poor support character took the news that the *magic* was actually the *magic* and now everything is upside down and what will they decide now regarding the *magic*. (BTW, I use *magic* to prevent spoilers :p)
No, the reader will care about what the MCs think, because the reader invested most into them. I guess it's an investment problem after all.

My brilliant conclusion.

A character is unstable and can't be put into any category for the length of a whole book/series because they'll keep moving around.
I think the accuracy of my pyramid reduces to scenes. Each scene has one MC - one person everyone else revolves around. In conclusion, all my characters will get to be support at some point, to let the one in whose POV we are grow more. The whole point of this is to get the reader to like and know the characters.

This whole analysis was painfully useless.

I know, you were probably expecting a witty analysis of the support character - how to build one, his/her purpose in the story, what makes them tick - kinda like I did for the other categories of characters in a book. But here is where I fall flat. I have failed everyone - I started off writing something intelligent and  came up with... this.

Um...yeah. So, er, what have you guys been up to lately? O:)


  1. Hi Steph!

    Your recent batch of character posts has fit in well with a book I am reading, "Story Engineering". I am on the character section of that book, so it has been interesting to see how they go together.

    I may take a shot at writing a "support character" post to give my opinions on the subject. You have inspired me!


  2. Lol, glad to hear it! Maybe then I'll finally get the mess in my head straight and figure out what they actually do :)

  3. Hi Stephanie, seems you are hitting a teensy definition problem here.

    I think support characters can be quite substantial, and the reader might well care about them. From what you described, I couldn't see any reason why you wouldn't count the "girls" as support characters.

    Here's another bit of food for thought, see if this definition helps: ask yourself who is the story about? Those are your main characters. Other characters who play a major part throughout the story are then your support characters.

    For example, Poirot is clearly a main character, but what about Hastings? I see him as support. He is important, and we certainly do care about him, but the story is not about him.

    I like your pyramid illustration BTW.

  4. Hi Ian!
    Yeah, that's how I feel - only that I hit definition snag and ended up ranting and confusing myself instead!
    Yeey, you're totally right. Now I won't feel like and idiot when people ask me what a support character is - I'll just be able to say it's the faithful sidekick :)

  5. I see support characters as any character who helps move the plot along (and who are not the MC's). They might have very minor roles, but if they help the plot in any place, they'd be support. You could definitely break them down into major and minor support.

    Then, you have the unnamed random people (crowds on a street, patrons in a bar) who don't fall into any support, but serve as part of the setting really.

    I especially agree with your conclusion, that even MC's can be support when they're not the main POV character in a scene. Super analysis there!

    So, you did do something important here, in that you picked a topic, thought it through, and got a discussion going about it. Triumph!


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