A little more than a year ago, I was hard at work on a novella about a main character from my in-the-process-of-editing book trilogy. This main character made new ‘friends’ (if that’s what you call cellmates in prison) who were required to help push the plot along. One of these side characters sparked an interest in me and then poof! All of a sudden there was a whole life story to explore.
To dig right into the topic at hand, side characters provide a very interesting conundrum for authors. It’s not their story you’re telling, but they are completely integral to the overall success of the project. Without them, the story won’t function as it should. Can you just ignore them? Sure, you can. Can you work them further into the plot? Absolutely. Sometimes, the side character even becomes more interesting than the main character. Is that a problem? It depends.
In my opinion, there are different ways to deal with this particular problem.
- Try giving the main character a more interesting voice. Sometimes, side characters (whether good or bad) have more interesting things to say, or maybe they think in a more obscure manner. This can provide more interest for a reader since the side character’s perception is more colourful. To fix this, put your main character in situations which allow for their inner voice to flourish – something to flesh them out more and gives the reader something to sink their teeth into.
- Define your main character more. This kind of goes along well with my previous point. Sure, you may have told readers what they look like, but what about how they feel? How they act? Are they too perfect? Do they have any faults? To make a character convincing, they need to be human and humans make mistakes. Try to think of what the main character is like outside of the story’s situation. If you can form a concrete character profile about them using that information, then they should become more interesting all-around.
- Make your project a multi-P.O.V. story. If possible, and if it fits with your narrative style, try giving the side character a more prominent role in the overall story. Give them a point of view, let them tell the reader what they see the main character doing through their eyes. Put them in more scenes with the main character, or let them have a sub-plot and then find a way to tie it into the climax. This way, everyone wins. The main character gets to continue having the story revolve around them, but the side character gets more screen time, so to speak.
- Write about the side character, but in a separate piece – maybe a novella or short story. Using this option is something I’ve done a couple of times in my past experiences. Allowing the side character to grow and expand into their own separate story can be helpful. Not only do you have a new piece to work on, but it helps with many other areas of your writing. You get to world-build. And with that urge to learn more about the side character gone, you get to focus back on telling the main character’s story in your original piece.
- Make the side character your main character. This one involves the most amount of work, but if you’ve tried everything and it just still doesn’t seem to be working, maybe making the drastic change is for the best.
So there are a few suggestions for dealing with an intriguing side character. Comment if you have any other helpful suggestions! And as always, keep writing!
Until next time.