-This is a re-post of a guest article I wrote for the tuesdayserial.com blog quite a while back.-
Hello, ladies and gents. There are a lot of things that I’ve learned about writing since starting my serial Static Breaker. In this snazzy post I’ll be covering one of those topics just for you: juggling characters.
My series has a single POV character, but he’s usually hanging out with a couple of friends. It can sometimes be challenging to juggle more than two characters together in a scene. Below are some tricks that I’ve found useful.
1) Give them a reason to be there – Don’t have secondary characters tag along just because. Why should they be in your story if they don’t make it better? Your characters should earn their place. Secondary characters need skills that can help the main character proceed. If they’re just in the background, and don’t contribute, take them out. Don’t make them the star of the show, but give them their own time to shine. Design problems that make them a necessary part of the team.
2) Give them something to do – Standing still is boring. Your characters shouldn’t be talking heads. Make them a physical part of each scene. Have them interact with the environment. Even if they’re sleeping in the background, you can have them snore and mumble to themselves. Maybe have them roll off of the bed. Simply tagging “he said, she said” over and over gets repetitive real fast. Try something like: Craig kneeled in front of the rusty oven and pulled it open. It creaked loudly. “How long do you think it’s been since someone lived here?”
3) Give them a voice – Don’t have them all speak the same. Try to make them identifiable just from the way they speak. Get rid of your voice and find theirs. They should all contribute something different to a conversation. Do they have quirks? Favorite phrases? How often do they use contractions? Are they casual? Proper? If something crazy happens, how do they react? Do they use similes a lot? Do they exaggerate?
4) Give them attitude – Yes-men are boring. Give your supporting characters opinions and emotions of their own. Drama is exciting. Supporting characters can still show dissent. Don’t be afraid to let them argue and even fight. They should also have their own motivation. Why are they doing what they’re doing? Why be there at all?
5) Give them nuance – One-note characters are boring. If the goofy guy is always the same kind of goofy in every situation, he’s a caricature, not a character. Everyone gets sad and angry at certain times, even if it’s rare. Everyone has their vulnerabilities. Also, humans are especially skilled at holding two conflicting thoughts in their head at once. Show the real breadth of their personality.
By keeping each of these things in mind, your supporting characters will work to reinforce your main characters and bring your story to life. Your readers won’t be confused by who’s who or why they’re there. This isn’t all there is to know about juggling characters, of course, so go explore in your own writing. If you come up with any other tips, let me know.