Writers Write is your one-stop resource for writers. In this post, we discuss the role of supporting characters in your novel.
Most stories have a cast of support characters who help the protagonist on his journey or adventure. Sometimes we call them the best friend, confidant, mentor, sidekick, and other names. Other times they’re called mirror characters. I like this term, as it gives a clear sense of their role in the story.
The Role Of Supporting/Mirror Characters
The mirror character reflects the main character, reflecting their best and worst qualities. They help the hero or heroine work through the conflicts they face in the story or resolve the issues of the past. They can act as catalysts to activate the parts of the hero he’ll need to rise to the challenges of the story.
Reflecting the journey
Let’s show an example:
Jo-Anne, a single successful playwright goes back to her hometown for a holiday to try to break her writer’s block. She reconnects with her high school friend, Samantha. Samantha is still the happy-go-lucky girl she was twenty years ago – married, a mother of two, working in a stationery shop. Sam is a mirror in that she shows Jo-Anne how far she’s come in life, but she also shows Jo-Anne how much she’s missed out on. Samantha admits she was envious of Jo-Anne’s ambition, and Jo-Anne admits her envy that Sam was always the prettiest and most popular. This honesty allows Jo-Anne to be more authentic in her writing.
Let’s take another:
Josh has always been close to his older brother, Hugo – in fact, he’s hero worshipped him. The two have followed similar paths, but Hugo has always had the better job, the most luck. When Hugo falls ill with cancer, Josh doesn’t know if he can deal with losing his brother. But when it comes to the last few weeks of Hugo’s life, he finds the courage and compassion to care for the brother who has always had his back. Hugo’s life-sapping illness brings out his own inner strength – and he is changed by the experience.
The Mirror Character
A mirror character is essentially on your main character’s side. Although he may push the hero, argue with him, irritate him – he is not the antagonist. He is there to show your hero who he really is.
Too often, when we write support characters we use them as one-dimensional characters who just drift into the story when your main character needs to vent or take a break from the action – the kooky best friends in a romance, the buddy who takes your hero for a beer.
When you understand that they can be characters that bring about change in your character, they become more exciting, real, and easier to write.
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