Writing Supporting Characters

Often people put a lot of effort into creating their MCs, which sometimes means the supporting characters – I really don’t like the term minor characters as much because at the end of my story all of the characters are important to me – get put on the sideline. Supporting characters are important too. 

A lot of how you learn about your MCs personality is by seeing how they act when they’re forced with other contrasting or complementing personalities. The people who surround your MC matter a great deal to the outcome of the story. Like I said earlier, your supporting characters need to be people too. Try to make every character in your book complete. Sometimes your supporting character can have a different agenda than the MC, or different views on how they should react to the situations thrown at them. This can affect your plot. Maybe your supporting character is facing different stakes than your MC. How does it affect them when their goals/stakes cross paths or don’t work together?

Your supporting characters define your MC. How does your MC treat the supporting characters? The supporting characters are everyone. The co-worker. The best friend. The relative. The neighbor. They might not be in the story for very long, but they should still make a difference. Some of these characters don’t need more than two sentences explaining who they are and what they’re doing. Some of the times, you never even know these characters names. 

Think about more important supporting characters, though. Your MC needs a best friend to help them through their trials. They need someone who will lift them up, but supporting characters sometimes won’t agree with the MC. Whether they’re there for the MC or suddenly out of the picture, this affects the MC’s state of mind and how the plot proceeds. Supporting characters matter. 

Think about real life. Even if you’re the MC, every single person you meet is the MC of their own life. They all have character development, stories, goals, secrets, etc. Every supporting character in your story thinks they’re the MC. 

What are some of your favourite supporting characters in literature? 

-Aivee

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The Faults In Your Characters

For the longest time, I couldn’t finish my books and I couldn’t figure out why. It took me longer than I care to admit to realize it was because my characters were perfect – and not in the way that they’re a perfectly created character, but in that they overcame everything I threw at them, and they never faltered. They were perfect, and entirely unrealistic.

It’s an easy mistake to make, because for a lot of people, reading is their way of escaping reality. In the same way for me, as a young writer, my characters were often very similar to me with the exception that they always managed to do the things I’d wanted to. They were better than me.

But no one wants to read a perfect character. In fact, I would go to say readers are sometimes practically waiting for the MC to mess up. Writers are always told to push their characters, which is true, but remember that eventually your character is going to break. No one wants to see their hero’s beat up, and readers want to see their characters rise back up to the occasion even after they fall. It’s often how you can spot the MC. Who will keep pushing through even once they’ve been hurt? Your characters need to be strong, but ultimately, your character needs to be human (unless your character isn’t human, in which case you’re not off the hook. You still need to find a flaw), which means they are going to mess up. Put better, to be flawed is quintessentially human

Don’t write perfect characters – write realistic ones. 

You want your plot to be unique, and your characters help this. Make sure your characters aren’t 2-dimensional. Give your characters depth. So how do you find the right flaw for your character?

The flaw has to hinder your character from reaching his/her goal. The goal is what your character wants, what’s driving the plot forward. Don’t just give your character a flaw for the fun of it. It should make sense and fit the story. It should be something that matters. There’s no end to the flaws and weaknesses your character could have. Just remember that your character is going to make mistakes. 

Another point I have to mention is that most of this seems to be talking about MCs, but if you want to add more depth to your novel, give your minor/supporting character flaws as well. It can be fun, even, to have characters whose flaws clash with each other. Don’t spend all your time on your MC. Your other characters need to be realistic, unique, and flawed as well.

What are some interesting flaws you can think of?

-Aivee

Killing Characters

I get very attatched to my characters, whether I mean to or not. I think this is a really important part of writing, but the fact remains that sometimes, you are going to have to kill your characters. Killing characters often helps move the plot along or is key for another (often your MC) character’s development (Peter Parker’s grandfather dying in Spider Man comes to mind). In my first novel I created a character who I knew would die, and I still got attatched to her (against my better judgement). But you have to avoid killing characters unnecessarily – I’m sure you all can think of several series (whether books or TV shows or both) that are notorious for “everyone” dying in the end. So when and why should you kill a character? 

As I’ve already said, deaths in books should move the plot along. These are the deaths that spur revenge or inspiration (often to your MC) in the fictional world of your book. Often these kinds of deaths happen early on and are the reason for the plot, the beginning of the adventure. A lot of times these deaths aren’t going to be a surprise to your readers. Make sure they mean a lot to your characters. Pick a person your MC cares a lot about.

The other, harder deaths to write, are the ones that surprise your reader. This can be harder, because these characters don’t always die for a reason. The trick is, there always needs to be a reason a character dies. Every character in your story serves a purpose. Consider who is going to step up and fulfill that purpose once the original character is dead. If you’re simply killing a character to get rid of them because they aren’t important to the story, maybe you didn’t need them in the first place.

Killing characters can be fun. After all, writers are often even advised to hurt their characters, to push them as far as they can go to make the story interesting. Keep the story believable, though. I’ve killed several characters in my books. When my main characters are in the middle of a large war I know it isn’t possible for everyone to survive.There’s a certain point where even the best characters break.

You can make a spectacle out of it, and you can build up to it. Or you can make it quiet. In real life, you don’t know when you’re about to die, and the people around you aren’t going to either. Some of the best deaths in literature are the ones like this. The ones that make you ask why? and sometimes curse the author. The ones that are so real they hurt. Don’t kill your character just to shock your readers. Don’t just kill a character because you’re bored. Remember readers aren’t expecting the main characters to die. Don’t kill a character just to have killed a character. It sounds silly but it’s true. There have been a few popular books recently where main characters die (I’m not going to name them for the sake of spoilers) and everyone cries and curses the author but these deaths always have a greater purpose behind them.

What are some of your favourite fictional deaths? Ones you loved and ones you hated? Have you killed characters in your novels?

-Aivee

 

Character Descriptions

A lot of authors go about introducing and describing characters differently, and I’ve been thinking about it recently, so I thought I would write about about my opinion on it and what I know. 

How you describe/introduce your characters varies depending on several factors. One is which POV your book is written in. There’s a lot of articles out there about how to introduce your MC when you’re writing from a first person POV. I’ve seen some books where the character introduces themselves (My name is Aivee, I’m fourteen years old. I’m tall and I’ve got dark blonde hair and yah dah yah . . . you get the picture. It can be done differently.) in the beginning of the book, but unless you’re MC is writing the book for someone, this is unrealistic. Most people don’t spend their time contemplating what they look like. A lot of people don’t like what they look like, so they aren’t going to spend all their time depressing themselves (unless that’s a big part of their personality. Remember that there are always exceptions to these general rules).

Wait for a chance for your MC to describe him/herself to come up naturally in the book. There’s a good chance it’ll happen without you forcing it. A lot of people say the most cliche way to have your MC describe him/herself is using a mirror, but this isn’t always true. For instance, in Mage, my MC has been travelling as a refugee for over a year and hasn’t seen herself in a mirror for all that time, so when she finally arrives to safety, washing off and seeing her reflection merits her reassessing what she looks like. You can describe your MC gradually by everyday actions and by them comparing themselves to other, new characters.

You don’t have to describe every character as you meet them – especially not when you’re writing in first person. Your MC isn’t going to describe his/her best friend because s/he already knows what s/he looks like. S/he doesn’t need to remind herself of it. I think it works well to gradually talk about what they look like as well. Add in lines – she ran her fingers through her dark, tangled hair is an easy enough sentence and it betrays a small amount of information about said girl. She has dark hair. Gradually build up what your minor characters look like.

This being said, if your MC is meeting someone for the first time, include what they look/act like. We say don’t judge a book by it’s cover, which applies to people, but we don’t follow up on it very well. Everyone makes judgments of people when they meet them (and if you don’t, congrats. You’re a better person than I am.) and so you’re going to take some time to notice what new people look like.

Because I’m a writer, I spend a possibly creepy amount of time looking at people. All of them are potential characters to me, so I notice small things the first time I meet people. (If you’re ever bored in a crowd, pick a person and describe them like you would in a book. It can be a lot of fun.) Think about your MC, though. Not everyone notices all the things writers do. The age and gender of your character can change what you decide to include about characters descriptions. What is the relationship between the MC and said character being described? This is where you can sometimes describe the main character at the same time. I can’t speak for guys, but I know girls will often compare themselves to other people.

Writing in third person is a little different. You can describe your characters to whatever amount of detail you want, and can describe characters that your MC has known for ages because you’re not limited to a single POV.

What are some of your favourite character introductions/descriptions?

-Aivee

Questionnaires

There are a lot of character questionnaire on the internet, many boldly stating that they are the ultimate. What I’ve discovered the generally means, is the more questions there are, the better the questionnaire must be.

I don’t think this is true. I mean, if you’ve got a character in mind for this questionnaire, I’m going to assume you already know their name, age, gender, and hair/eye color. Most of the time, by the time I get to questions like, What is your character’s main mode of transportation? What is your character’s favourite color/food/music/etc? Does your character have a pet? At this point, I’m kind of done with the questionnaire.

These aren’t questions that are pertinent to developing my character. I’m not saying it might be a good idea to know these things, but especially if you’re using this questionnaire to try and develop your character before you’ve started writing the story, they aren’t the kind of questions you need to answer. Don’t worry about the personality questions. You figure out your character’s personality by how s/he interacts with other characters, so it’s not a bad thing to wait until you’ve started writing to figure this out. Have an idea in mind; shy, loud, sarcastic. Have a basis for your character’s personality, but wait to flesh it out until you’re writing. A lot of times I find my character’s have ideas of their own.

What was your character’s childhood like? This is a question I used to skip over, but I think it’s actually an important one. Understanding how your character grew up helps you understand how and why your character will react to things in certain ways. It’s okay to figure out your character’s childhood while you’re writing, but you need to have an idea, even if it’s just that you know they were poor growing up.

This is where my point of general questions not being important comes up. The best questionnaire I have ever seen, had exactly two questions, and I’m going to use them here and elaborate a little. So here goes – the following two questions are arguably the most important questions to be able to answer.

What would your character die for? In a lot of cases, this what might be a who. Parents who are willing to die for their children – but are they willing to die for a child they don’t know? Would you die to protect your family? Your friends? Would you die for a complete stranger? Don’t tie yourself to physical things like people or money. Would your character die for an idea? For her religion? For freedom? For equal rights?

I don’t want to take credit for these questions, which is why I’ve linked the original post, but I think they’re really important questions. This first one shows what matters most to your character. In most books, the reason we don’t like the villain is because he’ll let anyone die, and we love the protagonist because he’s willing to die for strangers. The more items you have on your list, generally, the better person the reader thinks you are. But what if the idea your character would die for is bad.

Who would your character kill (and under what circumstances)? In many ways, this is a harder question to answer, but it’s still important. What your character would die for is often the same thing they would kill for, but not always. Would they kill to protect what they would die for? I’m not sure I could kill anyone (unless it was self defense).

Generally we’re going to hate the villain because he’s willing to destroy masses of innocent people and he doesn’t care, which brings me to another question. How would killing someone affect your character? Has your character ever killed before? As I mentioned in my post about fighting, most people don’t enjoy hurting other people. Taking another person’s life is worse.

Try not to confine yourself the the questions on the questionnaires you find. If you have a shy character, what would bring them to speak up? What are your characters mental and physical breaking points? A lot of the questionnaires I see ask physical questions, but your character’s personality is what people care about when they’re reading. These three questions are ones I think are important when figuring out what kind of person your character is.

-Aivee

Picking Your Book’s POV

There are basically three possible POVs (point of view). First person, second person, and third person. Each type has it’s pros and cons, and I would say most writers find one more comfortable than the others to write in.

Second person. I’m starting with my least favourite type. With a second person POV, you are writing the book to someone. The best example of this is probably the choose-your-own-adventure books. My sister has a Titanic version of this and loves to see if she’ll live or die depending on her choices which is somewhat morbid. I’m sorry but I’ve never really enjoyed those books.

Third person. This is probably my favourite style of writing – not necessarily reading it, but for a long time this was what I was best at writing. What I love about writing in third person is that you’re not stuck to following the story of one character. You can explore minor characters, and can send your characters on their separate ways and still follow each of them in the story. I think it’s a lot of fun to write in third person because you have a lot of options. It’s arguably easiest to have secrets in your stories when writing in third person, and it’s fun writing the reactions to these secrets because you get to explore everyone’s reactions and how decisions affect your characters, not just your MC (main character). An example of books written in third person would be the Harry Potter series.

First person. Told from the POV of the MC, books that are written in first person allow the reader/author to get closer to the MC. Books written in first person are the Percy Jackson series, The Fault In Our Stars, the Hunger Games, etc. (A lot of YA fiction is in first person). You can also write in first person but switch between several characters, which is a way to get around the setback of not being able to follow the story of characters even after they go on different paths. Some authors do this just for the last book (Breaking Dawn and Allegiant). When writing in first person be aware that you can have an unreliable narrator, since you only have one side of the story, and your MC might even be lying to his/herself.

What is your favourite POV to write/read? Why?

-Aivee

 

Writing Realistic Dialogue

Bad or unrealistic dialogue is something that can cause a book with a good plot to crumble. Stunted conversations aren’t interesting to read, but in the same way, flawless conversations with characters who always know what to say aren’t realistic either. 

Each character should have his/her own way of speaking. Realistic dialogue makes for more realistic characters. Listen to the way people you know speak. The words people use can tell you a lot about someone. Think about how your characters are going to talk when you’re creating them. What is common of their culture? What have they grown up hearing? Have they been to school or not? How old are they? 

Often I will see characters using big words. While these words can look impressive, they’re not always necessary. In fact, coming across a big word when reading can cause you to stop, halting the flow of the writing. 

Attitudes come in to play here. Does your character hesitate before they speak? Do they stutter or mispronounce words? Does your character swear? How do they react when people around them swear? A simple conversation can reveal a lot of things about your characters. 

Try not putting who says what. How the statement is being made should show which character is saying it. The first time you hear a character talk, you can describe what their voice sounds like. Practice. You don’t have to include all of these conversations in your actual book. Have your characters discuss controversial topics. Some people don’t talk a lot, and that can show things about them as well.

Writing accents. This is something sometimes I’ll struggle with when writing. I can hear the [insert nationality here] accent in my head, but it doesn’t translate to the page. Some authors will misspell words to show accents. Sometimes this works, but often times if I see a book like this, I’ll put it back. 

I’ve found the best way to write accents is by looking carefully at what they say, not how they say it. For instance, if I’m reading a book and one of the characters refers to a TV as “telly” it’s an automatic note to me that they’re probably British (I’m sure this works the same way to someone who is not American, vice versa). Someone who speaks English but lives near a different country, might have some of that language integrated into their language. You can look up what people from different places say, but often you will still end up messing up a few words and sayings. There is an infinite amount of “British slang” lists on the web. 

-Aivee

Sharing Your Work

Another confession – I am paranoid about people stealing my books and ideas. I’ve started Wattpad several times and I’ve always deleted my account because I’m afraid someone with more experience is going to steal my book and then my dreams to be an author will be crushed. This is most likely an unrealistic fear, but a fear I have nonetheless. The media that I have come to absolutely love is Pinterest, because the community of writers is fabulous, and I can share my work and talk to people without actually giving too much of my idea away.

This all being said, I think it’s really important to share your work. Some people write for themselves – that’s great. I love that you’re writing – but this isn’t me. I’m hoping to publish my work, so I want to know if other people are going to like it. It’s also a really good idea to let a fresh pair of eyes read your book. Something that might make sense to you – you created it, so I certainly hope it makes sense to you – might confuse your reader. Listen to what they have to say. They can often find legitimate problems you didn’t know existed.

This is where my advice about knowing your audience comes into play. I’m not going to give my book to a middle aged person whose passion is historical fiction if I’m writing a YA Sci-Fi romance. Chances are, they’re not going to enjoy my book. I’m really lucky to have found a few friends who are interested in the same genres I am and who are willing to take the time to read through my books. It’s not easy to find someone who is okay to read your work when, let’s face it, they’re probably expecting it to be crappy writing.

Be ready for rejection. It’s okay to want people to like you’re work, but remember you’re the author. This book is your baby, so it hurts when people criticize it – trust me, I know – but ultimately you have to remember that you know what is best for your book. Not everyone enjoys the same style of book. There are going to be people who don’t like your writing. That’s okay.

I have friends who get their works back and are devastated by the amount of red pen scribbled across their manuscript. A lot of people make the mistake of thinking they have to make every edit. Look at all those messy comments as ideas. You can decide which ideas to keep and which to throw away.

What are your favourite ways to share your work? What do you think are the benefits and downfalls of it?

-Aivee

Realistic Injuries

Something that often bothers me in books is unrealistic injuries. Authors can tend to overplay the effect of the injury, or underplay it. Both are equally annoying, coming from someone who’s broken three bones. Let’s remember the difference between what is possible, and what is realistic. 

You don’t have to fall very far, or hard, to break something, and there are plenty of instances in books where characters jump from a third story window, roll, and get back up running. I’m sure this is possible, but a fall from that high can break bones. Is it possible to keep running with a broken arm? Yes (I broke both bones in my arm and ran several blocks back to the house. It’s totally possible.), but remember, as soon as that adrenaline wears out, not only are you tired, but your senses are somewhat down. You react to things slower than normal. 

Your character might not have an adrenaline rush at all. People vary, so you’ve got some room to work with. When I broke my collar bone, it hurt like heck. I honestly don’t remember very much about it except the pain. There certainly wasn’t any adrenaline rush to numb the pain there. What’s the psychological damage of it all? A broken arm or leg can look pretty strange, and/or gruesome. Maybe your character doesn’t handle blood well. 

It is entirely possible to not realize you’re hurt until after things have calmed down. For instance, if the character broke a bone in their hand, they might not realize until after everything’s happened, but don’t downplay the broken hand once it’s been recognized. That’s going to hurt, and they’re going to need to be treated. 

Consider how long it takes them to get treated. If a bone is left broken for too long, it has to be re broken so it can be set properly. Also, don’t forget other, smaller injuries. Let’s go back to the window example. Even if all the character has broken is an arm, they are going to be pretty banged up otherwise. When I broke my arm, I didn’t even notice the huge gash in my knee until I get to the hospital and the doctors pointed it out. I didn’t feel it at all, because I was so focused on my irregularly shaped arm. 

Head injuries get downplayed a lot. They’re serious, and shouldn’t be taken lightly. Head injuries can be fatal. If someone is knocked out for more than a few seconds, something serious is going on. 

Even bruises can hurt for a while. Don’t forget that you don’t have to get in a fight to hurt – practicing sports can leave aches and pains as you use normally unused muscles. Often in books someone gets in a fight, and the author describes the vast bruises and aches they have, then promptly forgets about them in the next few days.This always really bothers me. If several large events happen one after another, this is going to affect the character’s physical and mental strength. 

Different fractures heal and are treated differently. Is it going to be a full length cast or just a half one? Even after a cast gets taken off, many people wear a brace. Collar bones are different. There isn’t much you can do but wait, or wear a sling. (I hate slings – I think they’re really constricting.) Broken bones can take up to ten weeks to heal, and the younger you are, most likely the faster that will happen. When I broke my arm, I went through two different casts and a brace, and my arm was still really weak for a while afterwards. If your character breaks their leg, they’re likely going to have a limp. 

Make sure you don’t downplay all of this, but don’t overplay it either. After a week or two, it will likely stop hurting, and you can get up and do things, though not to the extent you could before. A broken arm is not going to leave a person bedridden for a week. 

Other unrealistic injuries that bother me a lot are sword/arrow injuries. An arrow to your arm is going to hurt, but unless it’s poisoned, one arrow probably isn’t enough to kill you. What will kill you is loss of blood. The more you move, the more blood you are going to lose. Removing the arrow can be a bad idea, since it might have been staunching the blood flow. Simple nicks from swords can cause  a lot of blood loss too. Character’s can pass out seeing the blood, or feeling faint from loss of blood. You don’t have to cut off someone’s hand. 

Lastly, consider the reason your character got hurt. Maybe they got caught up in something and it couldn’t be help. Maybe they got seriously hurt and needed a break from the action in the story. Attitudes affect You can learn a lot about someone by how they react when injured, or how they react to help injured friends/enemies. 

-Aivee

Realistic Fighting

As someone who mostly writes and reads fantasy, I’ve encountered quite a bit of fighting in my books. I always loved the thrill of these scenes, pages upon pages of the protagonist fighting the villain, smashing through walls, swords clashing – I think you get the picture. It wasn’t until I started a book (that ultimately is the only one I’ve ever finished) that I realized it was going to be harder to write these types of scenes.  I wanted mine to be realistic, which was when I realized most of the fight scenes I had read weren’t.

Understand what type of fighting you are writing. Is it hand to hand combat? Fencing? Sword fighting? Each type has differences. I’m going to focus on fencing/sword fighting, because that’s what I have the most background on, but one thing that is true for each of them is this:

People aren’t naturally amazing fighters. No matter what type you’ve picked, it’s going to take practice. (Unless the point of said character is their innate superpower-esque fighting abilities.) Someone can pick things up quickly, but they aren’t going to immediately excel to the top. They’re going to get beat, and it’s going to hurt. They’re going to question at some point whether all the hard work is worth it. Then, once they’ve achieved some level of greatness, they’re going to have to keep practicing so they don’t lose it. Fighting is not like riding a bike.

Dialogue. There are countless movies/books with witty conversations during the large fight scene. This is completely unrealistic. You simply don’t have the time to talk. If you’re characters are going to talk (especially if they’re taunting each other), try putting it before the scene starts, not during. I will admit it can make for some funny scenes (the scene between Wesley and Inigo in The Princess Bride comes to mind, but also keep in mind neither of them really wanted to hurt the other, and they were fencing, not sword fighting. Don’t confuse the two), but in a real fight, it’s not very realistic.

Adrenaline doesn’t always work in your favour. Lots of books and movies show adrenaline kicking in and saving the character. This does happen, but in a prolonged fight scene, the characters are going to get tired. If anyone’s actually experienced adrenaline in a panicked situation, it gets you through the beginning, but the second it’s gone, you’re going to be bone tired. Also, when fighting with adrenaline, a lot of what you’ve practiced goes out the window. You forget techniques you’ve learned, and lose some sense of rationality. This can be fatal in a fight.

Don’t write technical details if you don’t understand them. It’s possible to write a good fight scene without including terms and technical details. Write key moments in the fights, or focus on the psychological effect of the fight on your characters. If it’s an actual battle, it’s not going to be pretty. Don’t just focus on what the character is seeing. Go into smell and hearing, too. Explore your senses. If you’re not an expert on fighting, it might not be the best idea to make your characters an expert on it either. Lack of knowledge shows in writing.

When I started writing fight scenes, it was sword fighting (don’t confuse this with fencing), and I wanted to understand what I was writing. (A great book I would suggest for sword fighting is The Book of Swords by Hank Reinhardt.) If you’re using a book as a resource, take organized notes you can look back at while you’re writing (especially if this is a book you’ve just got from the library). You don’t want to have to read the entire book every time you have a question. If you own the book, you can tab important sections.

Sometimes reading isn’t enough. One of the first things I learned while researching was that fencing and sword fighting are two very different things. I wanted to understand the differences, but I couldn’t read about fencing because there’s a lot of terms I didn’t understand. For about two years, I took fencing. It was great for me to get the hands on experience.

Fencing is very different from sword fighting. Are you using foil, saber, or epee (Epee is my favourite)? Do you even know what that means? What are the different parts of a sword? Sword fighting is brute force, and quick moves meant to disable your opponent. Fencing is more choreographed. There are certain moves you learn, and rules to each type. Do you understand the armor of each type? How does a fencing mask obscure your vision while fighting? Some of these questions are things I’d never even considered before I started fencing. I still would love to find a way to do some sword fighting, but that’s a lot harder of a goal to attain, which is why I stuck with just fencing.

After the fight. How did the fight affect your character? Most people don’t enjoy hurting people, and there’s a huge psychological side to all of this. Did the character actually kill anyone? That’s a huge thing to deal with. Even in battles, you don’t have to kill someone. Taking out their ability to stand is pretty efficient as well. Is this the first time they’ve fought? What was the purpose of you writing this fight scene? How does it affect the characters?

The other part about fighting I want to talk about is injuries, but I’m going to save that for another post, because this one is already really long, and I have a lot to say about that as well. I hope this was helpful! If you have any more questions about this topic I can (hopefully) answer them in comments.

-Aivee