Writing Main and Secondary Characters

A few days ago, I ran a poll on Twitter, asking fellow readers and writers what kind of characters make up the majority of their favorite characters. 32% voted “Protagonists/MCs,” 15% voted “Antagonists,” and 53% voted “Secondary characters.”

Writing Main and Secondary Characters - Tea with Tumnus

The results were expected. Nearly everyone I’ve talked to have secondary characters as their favorites; usually, it’s anyone but the antagonist or protagonist. I think this is because a fair amount of the time, main characters aren’t as developed as their secondary counterparts. Authors will develop fun, quirky side characters to add depth to the hero’s journey, but a lot of the time, they are a stark contrast against the bland character of the hero himself, even sometimes to the point where we don’t care that much about what happens to the protagonist; we just want to see his co-adventurers alive and faring well.

I’m thinking of Harry Potter himself (he has an arc, yes, but the real personalities of the trio are found in Ron and Hermione); Frodo from Lord of the Rings (he happens to be Bilbo’s nephew, so he goes to destroy the ring at the expense of poor Sam Gamgee’s life); Will Turner from Pirates of the Caribbean (who cares if he gets the girl, whatever Jack Sparrow is doing at the moment is way more interesting); Luke Skywalker from Star Wars (just another whiny teenager who wants to go on adventure, why can’t we focus more on Obi-Wan or R2D2?). Sometimes, as in the cases of Killmonger from Black Panther and Darth Vader from Star Wars, the villain generates more interest and sympathy because of a more developed character arc and background compared to T’Challa or Luke Skywalker.

Okay, we get it. Such protagonists are lacking in diversity, are bland and predictable, and, quite frankly, flat out boring. It’s the supporting characters that get all the praise and glory for their genuinity, weirdness, their secrets, their unknown (but when we find out, usually very interesting) pasts and backgrounds, and unique variety in personalities. One reason I think this may be is because some authors try so hard to make sure their cast of supporting characters are well developed enough that the focus is mostly on their development, rather than the main character’s. It could also be because the writer or author has yet to fully understand the character of their protagonist; perhaps they need to sit down and have a spot of tea with their main character to discover thier motives, goals, strengths, and weaknesses and the like.

*raises hand* I struggle with this all the time. Currently, I’m actually trying to find a way to keep my MC from fading into the background. So, I’m also talking to myself here.

It’s important to reevaluate and maybe even readjust our story spotlight’s focus. After all, your story is mainly about your protagonist/main character, so it’s probably a good idea to make him/her interesting, right? After all, why can’t your main character enjoy complex characteristics just like his co-characters? Secondary characters are the people in the story that aid the main character and help him/her along in the adventure. That’s their job, their role. But they are important for other reasons as well: having a relationship with the protagonist, adding depth to the story, adding to the tension, etc. And it’s good to have interesting and quirky side characters, but it’s good to develop your main character alongside them too.

Give your main characters a real background that defines who they are now. Give them a weakness, but also give them strength that can help them eventually overcome that weakness—and whatever hardships the antagonist will throw in their way. Give them an arc. Give them a motive—a motive that can either remain the same, or change with the transformation of the character. Give them secrets. Give them questions and doubts. And, last but not least, give them personality. Give them quirks, variety, a uniqueness that makes them human and relatable.

Secondary/side characters are called supporting characters for a reason. They’re there to, again, support your main character throughout his/her journey. They are there to provide help, friendship (or not), and the building up of character for the protagonist. Let’s make those secondary characters fun, unique, and memorable, but let’s also remember to take time to develop and complete the character and understand the voice of our protagonists as well.

The story is mainly about the protagonist, so make a good one.

 

And that just about wraps it up! Now why don’t you go ahead and share your two cents on the topic. What kind of character is the majority of your favorite characters in fiction, books or movies? When writing, do you develop your secondary characters more than your main character, or is it the other way around? Thanks for reading, have a stellar day, and good luck on your writing endeavors.

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4 thoughts on “Writing Main and Secondary Characters

  1. I’m actually the other way around and tend to develop my protagonist(s) way more than side characters. Actually, right now I’m struggling to even have side characters! I have to force myself to develop them because I know otherwise the story won’t function right haha. Great post!!

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  2. Great post! I wholeheartedly agree with you on a lot of the examples you brought up! Luke was just so… bland and way less interesting then Darth Vader. I’m a little bit mixed about Will however. On the one hand, I do think Jack Sparrow was definitely the more interesting character, but on the other hand, I felt like Will was a really great character in that he complimented Sparrow’s personality really well (Which is why I think POTC 4 was so terrible. Jack had no one well developed to bounce off of) but you’re definitely right, Jack was by far the better written character. Maybe it would have went down better if Jack was the protagonist and Will the supporting character *shrugs*
    And now that you mentioned it, Harry was a little boring compared to the others, something always felt a little off about him, but I was never sure what it was till now, so thanks! 😀

    Anyways, great post! You brought up some great points!

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    • Ooh, I didn’t think of Will’s absense in POTC 4 as the cause for Jack’s weird change in personality. There was something off with his character in that movie that I couldn’t put my finger on. I need to watch those movies again with an analytical eye. 😀 Thanks for pointing that out, and thanks for reading!

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