Re: How to make side characters have depth and feel alive.

#1
So in my novel I have recently just introduced a new character the first one the MC has significant interaction with. I just wanted to know if anyone had any tips to make the side characters feel like real people and alive. Not just characters there to further the story. I believe I did a good job of this in my recent chapter but I would love any advice on this! 
If you feel further compelled check out my story in my signature and tell me what you think of my new character Leon!

Re: How to make side characters have depth and feel alive.

#2
You can never go wrong with these basic questions:

What does the character love?

What does the character hate?

What does the character want?

And then find ways to show these things, preferably through the new character's actions. It also helps if some of these things go against what the protagonist loves/hates/wants. (Or against what the plot seems to require.)

Competency is another thing to consider. What is the character good at / bad at? Once again, it can help to contrast the protagonist. Whatever the protagonist's biggest weakness is, consider making that one of the new character's strengths. 

Voice is another. What unique words and phrases does this character use? And same as before, consider some words that your protagonist would never say.

You can definitely keep going with unique physical traits, flaws, habits, quirks, etc. but this is a start.

Hope that helps!

Re: How to make side characters have depth and feel alive.

#3

David Wrote: You can never go wrong with these basic questions:

What does the character love?

What does the character hate?

What does the character want?

And then find ways to show these things, preferably through the new character's actions. It also helps if some of these things go against what the protagonist loves/hates/wants. (Or against what the plot seems to require.)

Competency is another thing to consider. What is the character good at / bad at? Once again, it can help to contrast the protagonist. Whatever the protagonist's biggest weakness is, consider making that one of the new character's strengths. 

Voice is another. What unique words and phrases does this character use? And same as before, consider some words that your protagonist would never say.

You can definitely keep going with unique physical traits, flaws, habitsm quirks, etc. but this is a start.

Hope that helps!
Wow this is definitely helpful! Thanks for the advice!

Re: How to make side characters have depth and feel alive.

#4
It also really depends on how much effort you want to put into each character. A famous side character who later became a staple in D&D was called Drizzt Do'Urden. His evolution from a minor side character to a main character was amazing.

We all put in a ton of effort for our main character, but for the side characters there's always a measure of laziness with them. They don't need full backstories and details. They just need to fit within the world properly. But in truth, it's up to you to decide how much effort you'll put in for their backstory.

You could just as easily put in the same amount of effort for them as you do for your main character. I personally think what makes characters feel alive is their relatability. How much can your audience connect with them? Does the character have struggles? Their own ideals and dreams? What defines that characters personality?

People are complex and deep. The more you find out about a person the more you realize that we are all defined by our past. If you can create a character that feels defined by their past, then you have a character that not only feels real and alive, but relatable.

Best of luck with your book. I hope your fictions finds a huge audience on RR peoapproval

Re: How to make side characters have depth and feel alive.

#5
Thinking about how I do this, I definitely I have a short but important checklist.

The first thing is that I need to understand what the side character's life looks like before they enter the scene and after they leave it. Not necessarily in huge detail, but enough that I know where they were and where they're going.

Second, the side character's motivation probably isn't 'move my plot along'. So what is it? What are they doing as they pass through the story, and why? Personally I wind up with a ton of side characters who are a little too conveniently there to just, like. Appear, do stuff for the plot, leave. I don't like that. I prefer it when they're clearly pursuing their own agenda and just happen to cross the narrative's path.

Third, and finally, if applicable? Pocket litter. ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pocket_litter) It's not just, like. Physical stuff like whatever's in their pockets - that'd be mad to write about from most POVs. Scars, dirty shoes, a favourite watch, details that literally say 'this person has been somewhere else and done something else we didn't get to see'.

Do I follow my own checklist? Not as often as I'd like, but I try.



Re: How to make side characters have depth and feel alive.

#7
Remember that everyone is the main character of their own life.

Don't write side characters falling utterly into the orbit of the MC without good reason. Make sure they're acting in their own best interests.

Imagine the scene from their perspective. Do they have a good reason for what they're doing? Not a justification, not an excuse, but a good reason that they should choose this course of action over any other.

That's the big one.

Re: How to make side characters have depth and feel alive.

#8
Rule of thumb: everyone in real life considers them themselves the protagonist of their own story. Although you likely will not have a viewpoint for most characters in your story, there are certain ways to make side characters feel more real - 

Give them a reason for being other than serving the protagonist(s). This can be a big problem with love interests, or token characters of the opposite sex. They are merely an object for the protagonist, and don't have any other goals than to be with the love interest. Don't do this.

It can also be a big problem in chosen one stories, where all anyone wants to talk about it how amazing the chosen one is, and doesn't seem to have anything better to do.

Other ways to make them better tie into this - give them some distinct, memorable traits, even just one or two will suffice. Good names are helpful. Maybe they have some interesting ability. As with many things in writing, make it appear to be an iceberg - give the impression that maybe they have an interesting story of their own - have their story tie into the themes you want your story to have.

Hopefully you find this advice helpful.

Re: How to make side characters have depth and feel alive.

#9
A lot of what has been said before.

The thing I've been using so far is to imagine the story behind any side-character that appears. Where did they come from, why are they here, what are they going to do next. The more regular the appearance of a character, the more detailed and nuanced this should be. However, as WasatchWind says, you shouldn't tell your readers about it. Or at least not right away.

Next, the characters shouldn't just have a story about why they hold certain values or have a habit of... whatever. They should act on it. For me, this is part of the elusive 'show, don't tell', though there is enthusiastic debate on what that sentence actually means. I want you to show me the personality of people by how they act, not just telling me. If someone is sensitive, don't just say so. Write about how the desperate crying of a mother who lost her child brings tears to his eyes or something. Then later, at a similar situation, he doesn't have tears in his eyes. Why? Well, that is a different story....

If you want to read an example of a story where the other characters merely exist to glorify the MC in one way or another, read Overgeared.

Re: How to make side characters have depth and feel alive.

#10
1) Give them a voice. You don't always need to do this, but if it's done well the reader will know who's talking just by how they say things. Often times, authors tend to have a default voice they go to, and if you're not careful all your characters will start sounding eerily similar. Give them something more unique. Words that they'll never say. Words that they'll overuse. A style of talking that's just slightly different enough to be noticed. 

2) Give them mannerisms. Imagine how they move and walk around, what they unconsciously tend to do. You don't always have to mention it, but having it in your mind while writing will subtly differentiate them. 

3) Write five character tags that are positive and two that are negative, this should describe the 'soul' of the character. These tags help 'ground' the character into your head. For example, 'Trickster, happy-go-lucky, prideful, secretly-untrusting, loyal, objective-focused, level-headed" Just these tags alone painted a pretty interesting character right off the bat. Loyal but untrusting already has a story of it's own going on there. 

4) I have a list of 64 questions I answer for each important character I create. It takes a while. Almost all of it are questions nobody but me will know the answer to. But having all of these questions answers will seriously flesh out a character. Here's just a few of the more important/fundamental ones ones:
  • How does the character display their character tags?
  • What is the character's primary story goal? Why?
  • What personally is the most important thing in this character's life? Why?
  • When opposed or thwarted by someone, how does this character typically react?
  • Describe this character's belief system or personal code
  • How did that belief system develop?
  • How are this character's goals essential to his or her sense of self worth, self concept, or ideal of happiness?
  • What is this character's most prized possession
  • Describe this character's parents
  • Who was the most important individual in this character's early life? Why?
  • What was the biggest disappointment in this character's childhood or past?
  • Describe how the surface appearance or behavior contrasts with their true nature?
  • What about this character needs to change? What do they need to learn to be ready for the story climax? Or their personal story climax? 
Go ahead and make up your own questions. These should be questions that dig into who the person is. They usually won't ever be revealed to the readers, but knowing these will make the characters more real - because they have their own wants, goals, beliefs, demons, and past that might be completely unrelated to the story they're in right now. 

Re: How to make side characters have depth and feel alive.

#12
Remember that when you are doing an important scene, slow things down.  If you wanna show a weak old sick man, show him fumbling with his pill bottle.  Show him telling his wife that it's fine and that he doesn't need her help when he really does.  Make us feel pity for that old man.  His illness is not a side note, if you want it to be a defining character trait, then you really have to deliver it.  

And while you do all that, you have to remember that this miniature battle with the arthritis pills isn't that interesting to the reader, so you have to add in plot advancement at the same time.  Maybe while he's struggling with his pills, he's discussing the particulars about his evil empire with his wife.  

Re: How to make side characters have depth and feel alive.

#13
Rednow, I was once told to give your characters their own life.  That sounds obvious, but with what it entails, it may not be.  Outside of the main character's mission, what life do they have?  What are their struggles, their interests?  What drives them?  What do they spend their time doing?  What are their personal stakes?  Of course, this advice cannot always be carried out, however, it is best to fit these details in whenever possible.

Sincerely, Wile

Re: How to make side characters have depth and feel alive.

#14
One thing a lot of people forget to do is make the side characters different from each other. They shouldn't be carbon copies with different appearances and different abilities. If you have three characters that speak the same, have the same opinions, and react to events the same... just make one character instead. You should be in a situation where you can black out all the names in a chapter with established characters, and someone who's read up to this point should be able to make a pretty good guess as to whose name goes where. (Some mistakes are expected -- characters shouldn't be 100% predictable except in certain specific genres and in a group of, say, close high school friends, everyone probably has vaguely similar opinions on a lot of common topics -- but they should do significantly better than blind guessing.) If you can make your side characters distinct from each other and distinct from the protagonist (without making them shallow stereotypes), this will do a massive amount of the legwork for you in terms of convincing the audience that they're real people and deserve attention.

Re: How to make side characters have depth and feel alive.

#15
Keep the character pacing slow. Reveal bits and bits about him as you further the story. Atleast that's what i believe. Make it fight(if fighting is involved) the main villans(of each arc) or their subbordinates. Don't always keep your mc defeating the main villans but also your sc. In some of the smaller arcs(with maybe 4 chs) make the sc the mc. This way, that character will be remembered. By the way, I am also a new author and these are my thoughts. You can find waste or useless, and that will be fine.