In screenwriting, supporting characters are those who are not the protagonist but play an integral role in helping to tell the story. They can be a friend, family member, love interest or a villain who plays an antagonistic role.
Supporting characters exist to help move the story forward, provide context and depth for the main character’s journey and add tension or humor to the plot. Although they may not be at the forefront of the story, supporting characters are just as important as the protagonist in creating an engaging narrative that captivates audiences.
Importance of supporting characters in storytelling
The significance of supporting characters cannot be overemphasized in storytelling. They add depth, complexity and richness to a story that would otherwise fall short without them.
Supporting characters help shape our understanding of what motivates the protagonist and why they do what they do. For instance, a mentor or sidekick character can provide valuable insight into why a hero behaves as he does through their words and actions.
Moreover, supporting characters help create conflict which is necessary for driving any compelling story forward. The villainous character serves to help define what good is by portraying how opposite he is from the hero.
Additionally, comedic relief provided by some supporting roles can lift an audience out of intense moments and make us care about these seemingly minor players. While protagonists may get all of attention in most films and TV shows; it’s essential never to overlook the importance of well-developed supporting roles- they are often where there hidden gems lie that keep us coming back for more!
How to Write Supporting Characters
They can be caregivers, mentors, foils, or any other character that exists to support the protagonist in achieving their goals . In this next section of the article, we will explore how to write supporting characters that are not only memorable but also contribute significantly to the overall narrative.
Understanding the Role of Supporting Characters
Supporting characters are not the main focus of the story, but they play a crucial role in helping the protagonist achieve their goals, undergo transformations, and move the story forward. They can be friends, family, mentors, or even antagonists. Each supporting character provides an opportunity for conflict, aid, or both.
Developing Supporting Characters
- Define Their Role in the Story: The most important aspect of any character is their context in the story. A character can be intriguing, charming, sexy, menacing, and any other aspect, but if they don’t have a context, they might as well be discarded.
- Give Them Defining Characteristics: Each supporting character should have a unique trait that sets them apart from other characters. This could be a physical characteristic, a personality trait, or a defining moment in their life. This will make them stand out in the reader’s mind and help them to remember the character.
- Develop Their Backstory: Supporting characters should have a rich backstory that contributes to their personality and motivations. This will make them more realistic and relatable to the readers. Their backstory can also provide opportunities for conflict and growth.
- Make Their Dialogue Distinct: The dialogue of supporting characters should be distinct from the styles of both the main character and the other characters. This will make them seem more authentic and realistic.
- Give Them Morals and Ideals: Supporting characters should have their own set of morals and ideals that challenge the main character. This will add depth to their character and make their interactions with the main character more interesting.
Types of Supporting Characters
In any great story, supporting characters are essential. They add depth and complexity to the plot and help the audience connect with the protagonist.
There are several types of supporting characters that writers can use to bring their stories to life. Let’s take a closer look at some of the most common ones.
The sidekick or partner is a character who helps the protagonist achieve their goal or provides comic relief. This type of character is often used in action movies or adventure stories where the hero needs someone to help them navigate dangerous situations. A good example of a sidekick is Robin, Batman’s loyal companion who provides both physical and emotional support.
Another example is Chewbacca from Star Wars, who serves as Han Solo’s trusty partner in crime. He doesn’t have much dialogue, but his actions speak volumes about his loyalty and bravery.
The mentor is a wise and experienced character who guides the protagonist on their journey. This type of character can provide valuable advice, teach important life skills, or offer spiritual guidance.
One classic example of a mentor is Mr. Miyagi from The Karate Kid, who teaches Daniel-san karate while also imparting important life lessons. Another famous mentor is Gandalf from Lord of The Rings, whose wisdom and guidance help Frodo overcome incredible obstacles on his journey to destroy the One Ring.
The antagonist is a character who opposes the protagonist and creates conflict in the story. Without an antagonist, there would be no real stakes for the hero – no challenge to overcome. Antagonists can come in many forms: they can be villains with evil motives or simply people with opposing goals.
One classic example of an antagonist is Darth Vader from Star Wars – he’s powerful, menacing, and embodies all the worst qualities of the dark side of the Force. Another example is Hannibal Lecter from The Silence of The Lambs, whose intelligence and cunning make him a formidable foe for FBI agent Clarice Starling.
The love interest is a character who is romantically involved with the protagonist and adds depth to their character arc. This type of character can help reveal new aspects of the hero’s personality or motivate them to take action.
One classic example of a love interest is Princess Leia from Star Wars, whose relationship with Han Solo adds an extra layer of tension and emotion to the story. Another example is Holly Golightly from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, whose complex relationship with writer Paul Varjak helps him learn more about himself.
The foil is a character who contrasts with the protagonist, highlighting their strengths and weaknesses. This type of character can provide valuable insight into the hero’s personality or help move the plot forward.
One classic example of a foil is Sherlock Holmes’ friend Dr. Watson – he’s not as smart or intuitive as Holmes, but his down-to-earth nature helps keep Holmes grounded in reality.
Another example is Rachel Dawes from Batman Begins, who serves as a contrast to both Bruce Wayne and his alter ego Batman – she represents what he could have if he gave up being Batman, but also serves as motivation for him to keep fighting crime.
The Role of Supporting Characters in Storytelling
Supporting characters play a vital role in storytelling, as they help to provide depth and complexity to the narrative. One of the key functions of supporting characters is to provide exposition and backstory for the main characters.
This can be done through dialogue, flashbacks, or other narrative devices. By providing this information, supporting characters help to flesh out the main characters and give context to their actions.
In addition to providing exposition, supporting characters are often used to create conflict and tension within the story. This can be achieved in a number of ways, such as by introducing an antagonist who opposes the protagonist’s goals or by creating disagreements between different members of the supporting cast.
By adding conflict and tension, supporting characters make the story more engaging for audiences and help to keep them invested in what happens next. Another important role of supporting characters is to add humor, emotion, and depth to the story.
Characters who are well-developed can evoke a range of emotions from viewers, from tears during a poignant scene with a mentor character to laughter during a comedic moment with a sidekick character. These emotional moments help viewers connect with the story on a deeper level and make it more memorable.
Supporting characters also play an important role in helping to move the plot forward. Whether they are providing valuable information or actively participating in events that drive the story forward, supporting characters are instrumental in ensuring that things keep moving at an appropriate pace.
By doing so, they help audiences stay engaged throughout the entire narrative. While they may not be as prominent as main characters in terms of screen time or plot relevance; Supporting Characters have numerous roles that contribute significantly towards storytelling such as providing exposition and backstory for main protagonists; creating conflict and tension; adding humor/emotion/depth; helping move plot forward etc., all contributing towards an immersive viewing / reading experience that engages viewers till the very end.
Developing Supporting Characters
Giving Them Unique Personalities, Motivations, and Goals
One of the key elements to creating memorable supporting characters is giving them distinct personalities and motivations. They should be multi-dimensional, with unique backgrounds and experiences that shape who they are. This will make them feel like real people rather than just plot devices.
For example, in the movie “Frozen,” Olaf the snowman is not just a cute sidekick but has his own personal goal of experiencing summer for the first time. To achieve this, writers should spend time fleshing out their supporting characters with detailed character descriptions that include their likes and dislikes, fears and hopes, quirks and flaws.
It’s important to ask questions such as: What does this character want? What motivates them?
What are their strengths and weaknesses? By answering these questions, writers can create well-rounded characters who feel authentic.
Ensuring They Have Their Own Arcs
Another common mistake when it comes to supporting characters is making them solely exist to serve the main character’s story. While supporting characters are there to support the protagonist in some way or another, they should have their own arcs as well. This means they experience growth or change throughout the story that is separate from what happens to the main character.
For instance, in “Breaking Bad,” Jesse Pinkman starts out as a small-time drug dealer but undergoes his own journey of self-discovery as he becomes entangled in Walter White’s world of crime. His arc includes confronting his past mistakes and trying to make amends for them.
Avoiding Stereotypes and Cliches
It’s essential to avoid falling into cliches or stereotypes when developing supporting characters. While archetypes such as “the wise mentor” or “the goofy sidekick” exist for a reason (they are familiar and easy to understand), relying too heavily on them can lead to one-dimensional characters that feel flat and uninteresting.
Instead, writers should aim to subvert expectations or find new ways of portraying these archetypes. One way to do this is by giving supporting characters unexpected traits or backstories that challenge the audience’s assumptions.
Another way is by focusing on their unique perspectives and experiences, rather than just their role in the story. By doing so, writers can create supporting characters who are as compelling as the main character themselves.
Examples of Memorable Supporting Characters in Film & TV
Samwise Gamgee from Lord of The Rings as an example of a loyal sidekick/partner
One of the most beloved supporting characters in film is Samwise Gamgee from the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Sam serves as a loyal sidekick and partner to Frodo Baggins on his journey to destroy the One Ring.
He provides much-needed emotional support and comic relief, but also proves himself to be a courageous and capable hero in his own right. Sam’s unwavering devotion to Frodo and steadfast determination make him a memorable character that resonates with audiences.
Another great example of a loyal sidekick/partner is Ron Weasley from the Harry Potter series. Ron serves as a source of humor and down-to-earth practicality, but also proves himself to be brave and fiercely loyal to his friends when it matters most.
His friendship with Harry is one of the core relationships that drives the series forward, making him an essential part of the story. Other notable examples include Chewbacca from Star Wars, who serves as Han Solo’s trusty co-pilot and friend, and Watson from Sherlock Holmes, who plays an important role in helping Holmes solve cases while also providing moral support. You may be interested in reading about: Crafting a Memorable Protagonist in Screenwriting: A Guide to Compelling Characters and Crafting Compelling Character Arcs in Screenwriting .
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