Are Your Supporting Characters Doing Their Job?

Feb 6, 2015 | Novels

We’d like to thank Jan Cheripko ( for this blog post.

“Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations.”—Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing

“A secondary character has two jobs: to show us another side of the main character and to create tension and problems that will move the plot ahead.”—Cynthia Lord, author of Rules, a Newbery Honor Book

Take a look at your current writing project with regard to these questions:

  • Are your supporting characters doing their job?
  • Are they pulling their weight?
  • Do they feel as real to you as your protagonist does?
  • Do you enjoy them?
  • Are they interesting to you?
  • Are they believable?

Now, consider these:

  • Who’s your most favorite supporting character — and why?
  • What’s your favorite scene from a novel or movie — and why?

Just as people move in and out of our world, the lives of supporting characters criss-cross those of our protagonists and antagonists. Sometimes they zip by in a flash; sometimes they linger — with a sweet after-taste, or a bitter one, like stale coffee. Regardless of the length of time they spend with us and the flavor they leave us with, they are most definitely real. And we need to give them the respect real people deserve.

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