Supporting Characters: We All Need ‘Em

I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for the supporting character. It’s great fun to swoon over a deliciously handsome leading man but sometimes I find their slightly awkward or sarcastically witty best friend captures more of my attention.

Supporting characters in books, just like the ones that exist in our real lives, are important. In our daily lives we are the main character. Our supporting characters are our family, friends, co-workers and a list of others that come into and out of our lives regularly. These people have an impact, sometimes great and sometimes small, but always affecting us in some way. A parent’s praise influences a child to excel as a reader. The careless words of classmate causes that same child to feel bad about her body image. Supporting characters, influencing.

23 years ago my husband insisted on watching Star Trek: The Next Generation reruns nightly. It annoyed the crap out of me. Today, I find myself turning on that same show to have on in the background while I work. Subtle supporting character influence at work. And please don’t tell my husband I just called him that.

We don’t live in a vacuum and neither should the main characters in the books we read or write. Supporting characters play a critical role. For me, some supporting characters in my favorite books are more likable and memorable than the main character. I find myself impatient to get through the MC’s pages so I can enjoy just a sentence or two about that really cool supporting character.

I’ve talked to readers and some writers about who should be on a list of “best” or “favorite” supporting literary characters. Typically, Ron and Hermione from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series come up, as do Watson from Sherlock Holmes and Melanie Hamilton Wilkes from Gone with the Wind.

Nora Roberts has written several series where the supporting characters from one book go on to become the main character in the next book. I’ve always enjoyed this style. It gives me the opportunity to see multiple sides of the character both in the spotlight and hanging out in the fringes.

For me I think I would list Luna Lovegood from the Harry Potter series as one of my all-time favorite supporting characters. My others include Wesley “Link” Lincoln from the Beautiful Creatures series, Magnus Bane from The Mortal Instruments series, and Samwise Gamgee from the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I’d also have to add Mr. Bingley from Pride and Prejudice to my list because of the way he affected Mr. Darcy.

As a reader, a well-developed supporting character adds depth to a book. He or she often makes me care about the main character more deeply. Without these amazing characters, some books would simply fall flat.

Who are some of your favorite supporting characters from books?

And writers, do you ever find yourself more intrigued by your supporting cast than your main characters? What do you do then?

One comment on “Supporting Characters: We All Need ‘Em

  1. I love this! I get really attached to my supporting characters. Sometimes I like them more than my MCs. Hermione is at the top of my list of fav supporting characters.

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