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Writing great side characters

Last updated on 22/06/2023

Crafting unforgettable side characters is a nuanced process that can truly elevate your storytelling. While they may not be the stars of the show, they have the power to leave a lasting impact on readers. Here’s a closer look at how to create great side characters:

Give them a distinct personality

Your side characters should have unique personalities that set them apart from the main characters. They should have their own quirks, habits, and behaviours that make them interesting and memorable.

Are they outgoing and charismatic, introverted and observant, or somewhere in between? These details should be consistent and authentic, reflecting their backgrounds, experiences, and personal journeys. Avoid one-dimensional stereotypes and strive for complexity.

Make the side characters essential to the plot

Each side character should serve a distinct purpose in your story. Consider how they can contribute to the plot, provide support or conflict for the main character, or offer a unique perspective. Are they a mentor, a romantic interest, a comedic relief, or an antagonist?

Even if they’re not the main focus of the story, side characters should still play an important role in the plot. They should have their own goals and motivations that intersect with those of the main characters. Their presence should feel essential and meaningful, driving the narrative forward.

Use them to reveal information: Side characters can be used to reveal important information about the plot, the setting, or the main characters. They can also provide insight into the themes and ideas of the story.

Use sparingly

While side characters are essential, be mindful of the number you introduce. Too many can overwhelm readers and dilute their impact. Focus on a select few who have significant roles and allow them to shine. Each side character should serve a purpose and contribute to the overall narrative. Consider merging or combining characters if their roles overlap.

Create conflicts

Side characters can provide a source of conflict that complicates the story and adds tension. This conflict could be between the side character and the main character, or it could be between two side characters.

Show, don’t tell

Instead of telling readers about your side characters, show their traits through their actions, dialogue, and how they’re perceived by others. Let readers experience their personalities organically, forming their own impressions and connections. Use vivid descriptions and dialogue that reflects their unique voices and perspectives. Show their strengths, weaknesses, and vulnerabilities through their choices and reactions.

Depth and development

Even though side characters may have limited page time, don’t skimp on their depth. Explore their backstories, motivations, and fears to understand what drives them. Consider how their experiences have shaped their beliefs and values. Allow them to grow and change throughout the story, adding complexity and authenticity to their character arc.

Giving them a backstory: A well-developed backstory can help flesh out your side characters and make them feel more real. It can also provide clues about their motivations and behaviours.

Relationships and dynamics

The interactions between side characters and other characters can be captivating. Develop intriguing relationships, whether they’re allies, rivals, or have a complicated history. These dynamics can create tension, reveal hidden aspects, and drive the plot forward.

Explore the emotional connections and conflicts they have with the main character and other side characters.

Make the side characters likable: Even if they’re not the main character, side characters should still be likable and relatable. Readers should care about what happens to them and be invested in their story.

Subvert stereotypes

Avoid falling into the trap of creating one-dimensional side characters that are based on stereotypes or cliches. Challenge these stereotypes and clichés when crafting side characters.

Give them unique perspectives, unexpected qualities, or unconventional roles. Subvert reader expectations by defying traditional character archetypes. This subversion adds depth and complexity, making them more relatable and engaging.

Overall, creating great side characters requires as much attention and care as creating the main characters. By giving them a distinct personality, making them essential to the plot, creating conflicts, providing a backstory, using them to reveal information, making them likable, and avoiding stereotypes, you can create side characters that are interesting, memorable, and essential to the success of your story. Follow me for more writing tips and inspiration! ✍️💡

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Published inWritingWriting tips


  1. Riyah Speaks Riyah Speaks

    This is really helpful, especially because I want to start working on a fictional novel.

    • I’m glad that it could be of some help. There is a whole lot that goes into writing a novel and having good characters makes up a decent chunk of it

  2. This is such a great post for writers. Often, the author focuses all the energy on developing the main character – but limits the time spent on the side characters. Perfect tips to fully develop the entire storyline.

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