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The Benefits of Paying Attention to Your Supporting Characters: Guest Post by J.E. Nice

by J. E. Nice

I love a good supporting character.  Not only do I personally tend to find them more interesting than the protagonist, but they can add so much to your stories, whether it’s adding to the plot, creating more scenes or to be used as a device for your main character.

Many writers may be tempted to overlook fully developing their supporting characters, because they’re putting all of their effort into their main cast. It’s understandable. Sometimes your main character just needs a best friend to lean on, and that’s all they’re there for.

But by not discovering who that best friend is, you could be missing a trick.

Let me give you an example.

Nearly ten years ago I started writing a fantasy novel. I had a vague idea for the plot but I had a definite protagonist, antagonist, and one supporting character who was going to help my heroine.

I wrote half of the book before I had to stop and acknowledge that something was missing. My main character and the bad guy were in two separate places, and I needed something extra there until they met towards the middle of the book.

I created two new characters for this purpose, a young maid and an old army veteran, and placed them in the vicinity of my antagonist.

What I wasn’t expecting was for the maid to be so curious about what was going on or quite so headstrong. Neither was I expecting the two to hit it off quite so well in the first scene I wrote with them alone together.

By the time I’d written the two into my existing manuscript, the maid had nearly completely taken over the plot.

What did this add to my novel? Well, it’s now the first in a trilogy. The whole story went from being one of a strong woman to three women all at different stages in their lives but all on the same path. By adding those two characters, the whole book became stronger and more fun to write.

If that hasn’t convinced you to pay more attention to your supporting characters (or to create some more), here are five benefits those characters could bring to your stories:

1. They will help to strengthen your plot.

No matter how much you plot and plan your stories (if you do at all), your characters will always surprise you as they develop and grow. It’s the sign of a well written character, a good story, and that you’re really getting into the writing. (Which is good; if you’re bored of writing, the reader will be bored reading it.)

By giving some focus to your supporting characters, you’re giving more scope for surprise from your cast. Who knows which supporting character could throw up a red herring for you or be the key to the whole mystery.

They may not take over the plot, but on the other hand…

2.  They may take over your plot.

If your supporting characters are particularly strong-willed, they may surprise you and this could include taking over the story, as mine did. If this happens, you can choose to embrace it and see where they lead you, embrace it but make sure they stay in line, or keep them quiet but take notes (see point five).

Your plot and story might change if you allow them to take over, but it could become so much better than you originally thought.

3.  Their stories will make the whole story more interesting.

By getting to know the backstories, motivations and personality traits of your supporting characters, you’ll be able to create subplots. Those little storylines that occur alongside, and potentially weave in and out of, your main plot. These subplots give your reader something else to focus on, especially when they need a break from the frantic drama and action of your main plot, or maybe when you want to create a little suspense. This can also include some comic relief and a bit of humanity, and could end up being integral to the climax of the overarching storyline.

4.  They’ll help to develop your protagonists.

If you create your supporting character with a full backstory and personality traits, then you’ll have someone complete for your protagonists to bounce off. By doing this, you might get to see a new side to your main characters. Maybe a supporting character will rub them the wrong way, or perhaps they’ll get on better than you had anticipated.

However your main characters react, it’ll give them a little more depth and something new for your reader to consider and potentially love about them.

5. You’ll find they give you more material.

If your supporting characters turn out to have a particularly interesting backstory, or if they’re trying to take over, they could give you new ideas and material for further stories and books.

A particular favourite supporting character in your novel could have a short story, novella or even their own novel. This can be great fun for you as a writer, but readers who loved the original story will be more than happy to have more of what could be their favourite characters.

If you’re building your author platform and business, a short story about a supporting character can be a great freebie for your growing readership. Or you can try submitting it to publications as a marketing tool for your novel.

So those supporting characters could not only make your plot better and give your main characters more depth, they can be great for sales, marketing and building a loyal readership.

Honestly, you have nothing to lose by devoting more attention to your supporting characters. So give them a chance to shine. They may surprise you.

Jenny Lewis is a fantasy writer, freelance marketing assistant and runs the fiction writer’s resources hub Write into the Woods. Her trilogy, The Last War, is available now and you can get the first book, mentioned in this post, Matter of Time, for free. Jenny lives in Bristol, UK, a city where it is downright encouraged to be weird, wonderful and every inch yourself, with her husband and Labrador puppy, Bucky.

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Author Interview with J.E. Nice

J.E. Nice is about to release the third book in The Last War trilogy, In My Bones.  I got a chance to chat with her about her love of dragons, her writing process, and her life outside of writing.

What was your inspiration for this story?

There were a couple of inspiration points for In My Bones, especially as it’s the third book in a trilogy. The first book, Matter of Time, started when I was in a new job and I was bored. I’d run out of work and they didn’t have any more to give me. I was sat next to the window and I stared out at the rain lashing against the glass. I opened up an email to myself and typed, ‘It was raining.’ That was the beginning of the trilogy, and that sentence is still in there. It led onto a scene with Del, a veteran, exiled dragonslayer meeting a company of dragonslayers seeking shelter during a storm.

A few months later, I was driving home from work with music blaring. Edge of the Earth by 30 Seconds to Mars came on and I suddenly had a vision of Del standing with sword in hand, looking down through the heat of lava and fire to a large dragon. That became my focal point for In My Bones and helped to drive the rest of the trilogy.

 

Have you always loved dragons?

Yes. I’m pretty sure my love of dragons probably evolved from a love of dinosaurs when I was small. I discovered fantasy when I was about sixteen, but I was attracted to dragons before then. When my mum bought me a fancy hobby horse, I picked a dragon instead!

 

Tell us about the third book in the The Last War trilogy.  No spoilers!

I tried to make each book in the trilogy work as a standalone. It means you can pick them up in any order, although it helps to do it in the right order! This was quite difficult with In My Bones, and it’s difficult to explain the book without giving away spoilers from the previous two, but here we go…

In the city of Drummbek, humans and dragons live side by side. But it took a war to get there. Our dragonslayers, maid and army commander have already dealt with the screams in the castle, people going missing and gangs forming to fight dragons on the Wastelands. Now an ancient dragon is ready to destroy what the humans and dragons have built.

At the beginning of In My Bones, an egg cracks open. It’s the beginning of a new life, not just for the creature inside but for the inhabitants of Drummbek. Magic is returning to the world.

The book follows characters from the previous two books, Del, Tabitha, Markkus, Andra, Johnny and Venkell, as they try to protect the city and its inhabitants from the biggest threat their world has seen in thousands of years.

What’s your favorite book?

I have a few favourites but my absolute favourite is the novella ‘The Body’ by Stephen King. I first saw the film Stand By Me when I was twelve and fell in love. I finally found the book it’s based on, ‘The Body’, and fell even more in love – the book is usually better than the film!

It’s about four twelve-year-old boys venturing out to find a dead body. It’s a rite of passage story and the two main characters are the misunderstood bad boy and the writer.

The book goes into much more detail about the characters and story, of course, and because it’s Stephen King, the writing is incredible.

 

What book are you reading at the moment?

I’ve been rereading the Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch. The latest in the series, The Furthest Station, was recently released but it’s a novella so it was over pretty quick. It’s been a long time since I read the first book, Rivers of London, so I went back to that. Then I accidentally picked up the second book, Moon Over Soho. I’m sure I’ll stop after this one and go back to my massive TBR pile!

 

Favorite authors?

I tend to fall in love with stories and characters rather than the author, so one book or series from an author I’ll love but another series from the same author, not so much.

Right now, I love Ben Aaronovitch, V E Schwab (Vicious is beautiful) and I love K. S. Merbeth’s Bite. I also love Chris Wooding’s ‘The Ketty Jay’ series, and Joe Abercrombie’s ‘The First Law’ trilogy.

 

Where’s your favorite place to write?  What’s your writing process like?

I’ve almost trained myself to write anywhere! But I usually write at home, in a little office room upstairs where it’s quiet. I’ve also been known to write sat at the dining table and, if I’m struggling, down at the local coffee shop with a hot chocolate.

When I’m working on a first draft, I try to write at least a thousand words a day. When I’m in the swing of things, that only takes me half an hour. I like to plot out the story beforehand so I know where I’m going, but it’s all open to change if a character decides to take it a different way.

I prefer the writing to the editing so editing is the long slog. I try to do so many pages a day, and then towards the end, so many chapters a day. I love the feeling of the book coming together.

I also love to talk about whatever I’m writing. Even if it’s just to myself! It really helps with plot problems (showers with no pen or paper also frustratingly help with that), but also helps me to get fired up and motivated to go write.

 

What do you do when you aren’t writing?

When I’m not working on my books, I run a virtual marketing assistant business called Adminosaurus and I’m hoping to soon take my technical publishing experience to offer services for authors. I’m also building a writing resources business called Write into the Woods, after speaking to so many people over the years who bombard me with questions about how to get started writing when they’re feeling overwhelmed and a bit scared.

Outside of work, I love watching movies and TV, and I’m often very behind! As well as playing with our new Labrador puppy, Bucky, who I’m hoping will be a keen listener to plot problems in the future.

A few times a year, I drag the people I love up to Scotland (my favourite place in the world) for an adventure. Otherwise, you’ll often find me sat on Bristol Harbour, even in the depths of winter, and watching the paddle boarders go by.

 

Real books or e-readers?

Definitely real books. I have some ebooks but I can’t get the hang of reading them. You can’t beat a real book. I especially like to read before bed and the thought of staring at another screen before I sleep is enough to give me a headache.

 

How long have you been writing?

My whole life. My mum used to make up stories for me when I was a baby. Then we’d make them up together. As soon as I started learning to write, I was off! I owe it all to my mum. I haven’t ever really stopped longer than a few months, when life got in the way.

 

Do you have any other books in the works?

I have lots of ideas for future books. I’m just starting to work on a new book about two women who form a paranormal investigation team. There’ll be fairies and ghosts and time travel in there too.

In the middle of writing The Last War trilogy, I wrote another book about a werewolf hunter. I’ll be giving that a rewrite at some point and hopefully turning it into a series.

I had great trouble saying goodbye to the characters in In My Bones, so I’m also planning a couple of short stories just to delve a little further into that world.

And then there’s the pirate historical fantasy, the steampunkish fantasy following a crew on a flying ship, and the sci-fi dystopian thief.

Needless to say, there’s more to come!

 

Where can we find your book?

In My Bones will be available on Amazon (ebook and paperback), iBooks, Nook, Kobo and my Etsy shop (ebook only) from Tuesday 19 December 2017.

 

Be sure to check out her website, and don’t forget to follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for the latest updates!

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