3 Tips For Rounding Out Side Characters

Back in May, I received notes from my beta-readers on my current MS. There was a lot of positive feedback, but there were some definite places where I could improve. Specifically, rounding out my non-POV characters. In my head, I knew each character’s ups and downs, favorite ice cream, back stories, etc. But the actual writing didn’t reflect that depth.

There were a few things contributing to that issue: 1. The 1st Person POV, 2. My writerly brain focusing solely on the MC’s experiences while writing, and finally, 3. The very thin narrative.

I’m a big fan of fast-paced novels. It’s my reading preference, so in my baby-writer way, I wrote a slim narrative that wasn’t fair to my side characters.

Which brings me to Tip No. 1…
Don’t be afraid to write from side characters’ POV’s.

This tip goes for all POV styles, but where the actual words go differs. If you write 3rd Person, you might actually be able to use those words depending on how it applies to your plot. But if you write 1st Person (which I do), this will just be an exercise to become more acquainted with your characters.

So here’s the exercise: Take any scene from your WIP and rewrite it from a secondary character’s POV. This is particularly useful for scenes where you introduce a new character or moments of high-emotion (e.g. inciting incidents, romantic scenes, plot-turning points, etc.).

Tip No. 2…
It’s okay if the MC doesn’t control everything.

I realize this is rather a ::face:palm:: kind of tip because “Obviously the MC doesn’t control everything.” But let me explain. Sometimes when you’re writing [specifically 1st Person], you get so absorbed in what the MC is experiencing or what his/her character arc is that you develop blinders against other ideas. This was definitely an issue for me during the pre-beta drafts of my WIP, and it restricted me.

Exercise No. 2: Take a plot point from your MS that is on the verge of being trope-y. What characters are involved? Choose the most important character of that scene [apart from your MC] and let them take the reigns on when/where/how that scene takes place.

Side Note for the above exercise: I did this with my own MS and the scene ended up containing more world/character/plot development than it would have in its original form.

Tip No. 3…
Remember Newton’s Third Law: For every action, there is an opposite or equal reaction.

And suddenly this turned into a science blog. Sorry, writers! 😉

Seriously though, while you’re writing, remember that there are things happening off-stage as well. Every time your MC does/says something, it affects another character. Remember what Kurt Vonnegut said about how each sentence should either advance plot or reveal character? That applies here. So if your MC offends someone on page 50, that someone should come back around to cause an issue later.

Exercise No. 3: Pick a scene with dialogue where the MC makes a decision that affects the person he/she is talking to. Write the fallout of that scene from the perspective of the other person. How does it affect them? How will it affect their relationship with the MC going forward? These words don’t have to end up in the finished MS, but you should integrate what you’ve discovered in how the two characters interact.

What about ya’ll? What tips do you use to flesh out your secondary characters?

Happy writing!

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