A well-written side character shouldn’t just be a prop or a filler for a story. They should engage the protagonist, influence them in some way, and help move a story forward. In some cases, readers can love them as much (or more) than the main character. While they’re usually complex and make you want to know more about them, there’s a lot of mystery surrounding their motivations, back story, and what else they’re doing when they’re not interacting with the main characters. This is what makes them so interesting. Sometimes authors will even create a spin off or sequel when a side character is much loved by their readers.
As a reader I’ve noticed sometimes I was more interested in the side characters or side couple than the main characters and I think we feel this way because they can afford to be more volatile, impetuous, or say things a main character couldn’t say. The main character is usually made to be “likeable” by a wide variety of people so they can’t usually afford to be as risky as a side character. I will say that some of my protagonists have qualities that are more common for the side character and that results in people either loving or hating them.
Side Characters In My Own Books
George in The Broken & The Foolish – This character was an amazing experience to write – it was as painful as it was fun to write him. Without spoiling too much for those who haven’t read this book and would like to, he has potential for redemption. We want people to do better and become good especially when they’re very young (He’s a violent teenage outlaw). I did something different with this entire book and decided to make it realistic for the time period (Those gleeful laughs and exaggerated smirks aren’t pulp fiction-y at all, but common among cads – single ladies who have dated will understand haha). Sometimes we have to realize that when people show us who they really are, we need to believe them. George shows symptoms of psychopathy (To put it in pop psychology terms) and sometimes as much as we hope for people to change, they can’t if they don’t want to. He’s stuck in Mary’s psyche because of that hope to see him become a better person. He’s a side character who plays a big role in Mary’s story.
Inspiration in Inspiration – Inspiration, an intuitive black dragon, is deeply connected with a young creative named Fleur. This story is an allegory of an artist’s connection with their inspiration or muse. Inspiration is his own person though and helps Fleur connect with her inner strength. In return, she shows him some new lessons he needed to learn, even as a 700 year old dragon! 🙂
Gabriel in The Broken & The Foolish – With this story being a female-led Western, the male side characters fuel her story and bring it to life. Mary’s adaptive so she adjusts based on what life throws at her. Gabriel is the first genuinely good man she’s met since she can recall, but since he’s on the younger side she discourages him from going with her on a long journey where revenge awaits. He loves her despite her many flaws yet he doesn’t push her to stay with him. Instead, he gently loves her as she is. He lets her decide which path she wants to take as they near the point where they will part ways. Being easily influenced by his elders (His dream is to be a pastor and a farmer), he lets old ideals come between him and Mary. When he chooses tradition and pleasing the men in his life over her, it’s the ultimate betrayal and heartbreak for Mary. Will he regret his choice to cast her out into the darkness (after she gave up the outlawing life for him)? You’ll have to read more to find out. Case in point – a romantic side character has a lot of power over how the story will play out.
Caleb in The Suicides – A loose cannon and the husband of the protagonist’s love interest, Caleb is a force to be reckoned with. He makes several angry appearances throughout the story and seeks to control the town and anyone who tries to challenge how things are run. Alfred is a visitor to the town and he longs to uncover what happened to the suicides that are common in the area (yet everyone seems to ignore it’s actually happening). Being influential in the town, Caleb often blocks Alfred’s efforts to help. This is a character that will probably be hated by everyone. As we know little about him other than his tyranny, there aren’t any redemptive qualities the reader can see (until potentially the very end).
Almaz in Voice Of A Story Teller – Almaz is a beautiful person – inside and out. This sadly makes her a magnet for Barak, a tortured soul determined to make someone pay for his bad experiences. I love how she has her own voice in the story (I’m biased, but you know). She treats Barak with kindness and class until the very end. Even beyond the grave her strength overpowers his, because she operates in love which will always be more powerful than hate.
My Favourite Side Characters In Other Author’s Books
Pavlik in Irkadura – The gentle actor who needs to conceal the fact that he is gay is the love interest of the protagonist, Irina. This is a dark tear jerker of a story, but equally beautiful. I love how Pavlik treats Irina and they form a platonic type of love to protect one another while surviving in communist Russia. This is my favourite book for a reason!
Cash in Geezer: Year One – Cash appears as yet another kid in need when Nix, a fiesty cop, is struggling to survive and take care of several orphaned teenagers. It turns out he’s 25 and is ex-military with a good assortment of skills. At first the two bicker a lot, but the sparks are definitely there despite the age difference and what seems to be a personality clash. What I really enjoyed about Cash is his quirky humour and calm demeanor. He wants to do the right thing and I love that he’s the perfect match for Nix in the end. Being the love interest, he plays a big role in this story. This is one of my top 5 books.
Taran in Journeys – He starts out as a brooding potential villain for Marieke (A girl who disguises herself as a boy to train as an archer), but he’s so much more than meets the eye. I enjoyed how he’d appear literally out of nowhere sometimes – an ominous presence that makes Marieke understandably nervous. However, the respect he shows for her skill despite knowing her secret is admirable. His connection with Marieke was what really drove the story forward for me and kept me turning the pages. He’s a nice balance to Tristan, who loves Marieke as a brother, but could never love her in the way she needs.
Rachel in Black – This story is such an immersive modern fantasy tale that pulls you right in. Rachel is a young woman whom Thomas meets once he falls into the fantasy world. I love her blend of ladylike characteristics and toughness – I connected with that very well and cheered for their connection. Sadly her character becomes lost in the future books which is why I enjoyed this book the most.
Kearn in The Door Within Trilogy – This fantasy trilogy is an allegorical tale where the characters in the fantasy world are mirrors of those in the real world we know. Kearn is a reflection of Robbie’s spiritual state in the real world (Spiritually dead, essentially). I warn that this is a Christian story and I was Christian back when I read this tale, so I would probably look at it differently now, but this trilogy was what pushed me to become a writer myself. Kearn is the left hand man of the story’s villain and as he’s closer in age to the protagonists, he becomes the main focus of evil especially by the third book. I loved his interactions with the good characters and the redemption arc was on point. Because this story inspired me to make novel writing a reality, I have to include this one.
Thank you so much for reading today! Do you have any favourite side characters?
In my own book I think it would have to be Christine. She is in near the end of the book and the character who helps the protagonist go through her change. She is definitely killing one of my darlings.
Ooh she sounds very interesting indeed!
I think side characters are just as important as main characters. They can make or break your story. Without good side characters it wouldn’t matter if you have a great main character or not.
That’s very true. Love side characters. 🤩
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Very true what you’ve explored here! Often the side characters’ personality/skills help illuminate a protagonist’s own personal flaws or compliment their weaknesses.
That’s true indeed. 🙂 They can definitely shake up the story. And in turn they can also highlight the Main character’s strengths.
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