Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books in lots of weird genres like fantasy (Blood of Kings and Kinsman Chronicles), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). She's currently writing a post-apocalyptic book with all of you called THIRST in conjunction with the #WeWriteBooks series.
Find Jill on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or on her author website, where you can read THIRST. You can also try two of her fantasy novels for free here and here.
Welcome to week six of #WeWriteBooks Wednesdays, where we are writing books together. I'm plugging along with THIRST. I posted Chapter 4 yesterday over on my author website. Click here to read another cliffhanger chapter ending. Mwa ha ha!
Today's Topic: Side CharactersTo recap. Week one was genre (THIRST is post-apocalyptic YA). Week two was premise. Here's mine:
A waterborne disease has sprung up in every corner of the globe, decimating the human race. Young survivors Eli McShane and his friends journey toward Colorado and the rumored location of a safe water source.
Week three was Storyworld. Week four, maps and floorplans. Week five, protagonists and main characters. Today we're going to get to know our side characters.
Side characters are important to a story. Not all side characters are portrayed in the same way. Some side characters will be more important than others. And some might not even have names! I've put together a few things that I think are important to consider when creating side characters. But first, here are some archived posts that might help you.
Archived posts for creating characters:
How To Create A Strong Cast Of Characters
How To Populate Your Story With The Right Cast
What Every Character Needs
How To Make The Most Of Your Character’s Best Friend
7 Ways To Grow Your Character’s Relationships
How To Build Unique Character Voices
Archived posts for naming characters:
7 Tips For Naming Characters (for contemporary and historical writers)
Choosing Names For Your Characters (for spec fiction writers)
Archived posts for brainstorming character traits:
Character Hobby And Skills Brainstorming List
Character’s Merits, Flaws, Or Fears Brainstorming Lists
How To Develop Your Character’s Skills Into Talent
Side Character RolesWhen I started writing my first book, I wanted to have two side characters because I was copying Harry Potter. On my third book, I had way too many side characters because I was trying to be "realistic" and that's how many friends/enemies I'd had in high school.
Neither of those reasons are good reasons for creating side characters. Every side character should have a purpose in the story. This might mean they are the best friend or the annoying teacher. This might mean they're people who never get names like a bus driver or an expendable Redshirt from Star Trek. The level to which you develop each side character depends on how important their role in in your story.
I once wrote a blog post on Dramatica. This is a computer program that helps you build a story to a certain model. I found their breakdown of character interactions fascinating. Using Dramatica's "tags" for example, in Star Wars, Luke is our Protagonist, the empire is the Antagonist, Obi Wan is the Guardian, Darth Vader is the Contagonist, R2D2 and C3PO are the Sidekicks, Chewbaca is Emotion, Leia is Reason, and Han is the Skeptic. Click the link to read my Go Teen Writers blog post on Character Roles From Dramatica.
The point is that characters should have a role that interacts with the main character. So take some time to think about side characters you have or might need to create. What relationship does each have to the protagonist? What role do they fill in the story?
You can also take a look at A List of Character Archetypes, but try to avoid character clichés. Treat these archetypes more like small character traits in a much more complex characater or roles that a much more complex character fills in the story.
Zaq- Best friend. Eli looks up to Zaq.
Lizzie- Eli's little sister. They're really close. Lizzie teaches Eli about girls without really meaning to.
Logan- Another good friend. Eli looks out for Logan.
Jaylee- Eli's love interest.
Riggs- Jaylee's love interest. Riggs also causes drama for Eli and repeatedly hinders Eli's goals.
Plague- Antagonist (Though other people fill this role scene-by-scene, and eventually one woman will when my characters reach the settlement of survivors.)
I'd like to add that there are other important side characters in every story. Some fill a role temporarily, like Pete, the grizzly gas station attendant in THIRST. His role was strictly informational. My characters needed to learn a few hints as to what was going on, and they needed gas. Pete filled both those roles in an interesting way.
Side Character TagsCharacter tags are defining characteristic words. These help characterize over time as you repeat them (hopefully not too much) in your story. They help the reader see and remember your characters. Here are some examples J. K. Rowling used in her Harry Potter books:
Harry Potter: lightning-shaped scar, broken glasses, messy hair, clothes that are too big (because they're Dudley's hand-me-downs), looks just like his father but for his mother's green eyes.
Ron Weasley: red hair, freckles, poor, uses a hand-me-down wand, wears shabby clothing, has a shabby pet rat... everything he owns is shabby.
Hermione Granger: buck teeth, bushy hair, clever, often carries a book or seven, has a pet cat.
Rubeus Hagrid: half-giant, eyes like black beetles, has a wild beard and hair, loves animals, probably has some animal food or an actual animal in his pocket at all times. Is a terrible cook.
Draco Malfoy: blond, pale and pointed face, wealthy, arrogant pure-blood, has two minion-like friends who follow him everywhere.
Click this link to read more about Character Tags and Titles.
Here is my quick list from THIRST. These are mostly generic descriptions. I think I will need to work on them some more...
Zaq- athletic, swimmer, wears flip flops, shaggy black hair, sugar addict
Lizzie- Eli's little sister, long brown hair, baseball cap, thin and small (size 2)
Logan- Braces, blond afro, loves quoting facts, worrier
Jaylee- Reddish-brown hair (often in pigtails), freckles, big brown eyes
Riggs- puka shell necklace, drives a Range Rover, dresses trendy and expensive
Side Character Backstory
Everyone has a past. You might spend a lot of time on this with your protagonist and main characters, but with side characters, you don't need much to make it seem like you know everything there is to know about them. Oftentimes this can be a secret that no one knows. Or maybe the protagonist knows it, but no one else does. This might also be a skill or a code a character lives by. Here is an example from THIRST:
Zaq- He trained all his life as a swimmer. He was planning to try out for this year's Olympic team, and stood a great chance of making it until the Great Pandemic came.
Side Character Arc/Arc Illusion
Jaylee- Jaylee lives life to have fun, no matter what her mother, teachers, or anyone else says. In a world where a disease has ravaged the world's population, such reckless living comes with a price. Jaylee will learn that sometimes a little moral caution in life can be a good thing.
Assignment TimeCreate a list of important side characters, then answer the following for each:
1. Role each character plays in the story in relation to the main character.
2. List descriptive tags for each side character.
3. Give each important side character an interesting backstory or secret that might make the story more interesting.
4. How will each character grow or change during the course of the story, for good or evil?
*Bonus- If it helps you, you can also create a character board to look at as you write. Here is my post on the subject: Creating A Character Board.
Post your answers in the comments for at least one of your side characters. I'm curious to see what you all come up with!