Part iv. Creating the Supporting Cast

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Now that you've created your protagonist, you need to create the supporting cast, the characters that help drive your protagonist and help drive the plot.

A few of the supporting cast will be main characters, each one nearly as important to the plot as the protagonist himself. Other characters will have a smaller role to play. Still, others will be walk-ons, put on the page to make the setting feel authentic.

You'll need to think about creating a worthy cast to support your plot and your protagonist.

Creating Main Characters

Of course, you need more than a protagonist to tell your story. There will be other main characters and each has to be able to hold his own against the protagonist.

Here are a few examples from literature of protagonists and other main characters:

• In "The Wizard of Oz," Dorothy had the scarecrow, the tin woodman, and the cowardly lion.

• In the "Sherlock Holmes" novels, the brilliant, coolly analytic Sherlock Holmes had the more mercurial, impulsive (and usually wrong) Dr. Watson.

• In "Jane Eyre," plucky young Jane had the moody, broody, and much older Mr. Rochester.

In all of these cases, the protagonist finds a foil by being paired with the other main character or characters and is enhanced by the contrast.

Where do characters come from? Some characters arrive apparently out of nowhere in a dream or offer themselves up, and it is a wonderful gift when that happens. More often, writers create an imitation from real people whom they know. Once you start putting a character on the page, you want that character to grow and change into someone who exists only in your novel.

Using Differences

When creating main characters, pay attention to how they contrast with the protagonist. Make each main character as distinct as possible from your protagonist, yin to the protagonist's yang, and use those differences to drive the plot and stir conflict.

Use the same techniques to create other main characters as you would to create the protagonist—character traits, character sketches, and so on are useful. Attempt the NaNoWriMo character template in part ii of this section. As you develop main characters, pay attention to their strengths and weaknesses, appearance and attitude, and create backstories that explain why they are that way.

Help your readers by making your characters as distinctive as you can from one another. A fast-talking, manic protagonist needs a concise friend with a Southern drawl.

Creating the Villain

In many novels, one of the main characters plays the special role of the villain, or antagonist, obstructing the protagonist in reaching the goal.

In "Jane Eyre," the mysterious Bertha Mason stands between Jane and happiness. In "Dracula," Count Dracula wants Jonathan Harker's beloved Mina for his own. In "The Wizard of Oz," the Wicked Witch of the West tries her best to keep Dorothy from finding her way home.

The villain in your novel may be pure evil, but more likely not. Even Sherlock Holmes's arch-antagonist Professor James Moriarty is described as having redeeming features.

Must a villain be loathsome—hateful, detestable, repulsive? Not at all. He can be chilling but charming, like Hannibal Lecter. Thoroughly evil? It's better when the reader can muster a little sympathy for a complex, realistic character who feels he's right to obstruct the protagonist.

So, in planning, try to understand why your villain does what he does. Consider the standard motivations like greed, jealousy, or hatred. Then go a step further. Get inside your antagonist's head and see the protagonist's goal from his perspective.

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