by Paul Wartenberg (Visit Paul at WittyLibrarian.blogspot.com)
Many works start with a character, a person, a main figure around which the story revolves. The thing is, unless you’re writing a work with JUST that one person, you as the author will need to populate this universe you’re creating with additional characters. Each one of them becomes a Supporting Character.
These characters can range from major Protagonists and Antagonists all the way down the list to little-known background extras who get one line of dialogue (like “Hey is that tornado full of shar…” CHOMP). There’s a tier or hierarchy establishing what value these characters should hold within the story:
These are the ones who interact directly with the main character. These are the character’s Friends, or Family Members, or Working Colleagues, or Enemies, or similar. There is a reason for these characters to be this closely connected to the main character, which can be part of the story’s background or current plot. It is up to the author to create and confirm those reasons for these supporting roles to be there: fun thing is you don’t always need to spell that reason out, and can leave those details for a prequel / sequel work.
Key elements for Major Characters:
• They have their own lives and backgrounds, and must be fully fleshed out persons with physical characteristics and behavioral tics. Character traits can establish why or how these characters became associated with the main character, or add color and quirkiness to a story.
• They’ll have names and even nicknames that are meaningful to both themselves and the main character. It may help for the name to match their persona or role in the story (but not too obvious).
• They could have a useful skill that can aid (or if an Antagonist, hinder) the main character at some point in the story, but not always. A supporting character can just be there to create a mood or establish a shared setting.
These are ones who show up briefly and have little impact (most times) within a story. They are the ones who fill the background of a setting – like a city or workplace – and who do not normally interact with the main character yet they have a reason to be there separate from the main story.
Some minor characters may be there to start off the plot, or provide a vital clue or item needed later in the story. The author does not have to spend effort providing any lengthy descriptions or backgrounds for such characters, only if it helps sell a scene or provide that clue. Names are not mandatory, but a minor character can display a quirk or character trait that may make a scene more effective.
THE FIVE SUPPORTING CHARACTERS YOU MEET IN THE STORYVERSE
Aside from the Main Character – who is usually the Protagonist – there are at the most basic level of Narrative five types of Major Supporting Characters you meet:
The Best Friend
Also known as a Sidekick, Wingman, or Lancer. Someone who is an Ally to the Main Character for reasons as part of a shared background. This is the character who can act as a means of providing Exposition. This is the Character that can provide any number of handy skills or items that the Main can use. In any role reversal, this can be the Hero of the story where the Main Character is the Best Friend or Sidekick to the Hero. A Main Character can have more than one Friend, but one will be Best Friend.
The Love Interest
This character is similar to a Best Friend, but the emotional connection is more romantic. He or She can be an active love interest to the Main Character or a person of potential interest towards which a relationship can be made. This supporting character does not always have to be there, and may not necessarily tie into the main Narrative, but she or he can still be part of the story as a way of establishing the Main Character’s traits and motivations.
Also known as the Obi-Wan (or nowadays Dumbledore). This is a teacher/guide figure in the Main Character’s life. He or She may not be physically present but can appear in flashbacks or as reminders to the Main Character’s development before the main story is being told. This character may have been a Main Character in the past in a different Narrative, and has aged now into a position of wisdom and warning to others of their own narratives.
The character providing the conflict to the narrative. All definitions of an Antagonist figure can apply here: could be a former Best Friend, Love Interest, or Mentor turned enemy; could be a character pursuing his/her own Narrative at the expense of the Main Character’s; could be a former Minor Character given motivation to become a threat towards the Main Character.
Plucky Comic Relief
Also known as The Fool. May not be a Best Friend but can sometimes double in that role. Does not necessarily provide a skill or tool useful to the Main Character, but can provide commentary about the Narrative or wisdom similar to a Mentor figure. Can be a Minor Character, but is too fun to ignore or is vital to the Narrative at some point.
From the website http://diymfa.com/writing/archetypes-for-supporting-characters