Using Side Characters to Add Depth in Your Story

Side characters. They’re the comic relief, the guy who saves the day in the end, or the person that’s secretly giving information to the villain. They can be fun to have, valuable for the main character, and important in their role in the story.

But too often they’re exactly that. The side character. They feel dense, shallow, and sometimes pointless. There’s nothing worse then finishing a book and going, “What was the point of that character?”.

As writers, we work hard to make our stories stand out, to make them meaningful to the readers. And I mean every aspect in the story – side characters included. But we struggle to give them a purpose. Something more than just the comic relief, guy who saves the day, or the secret villain.

These are all important roles for a side character to play but what if I told that they could be so much more? A side character’s role can, in fact, give your story so much added depth. All you have to do is define a few things.

Defining a Side Character’s Role

Side characters, also known as supporting characters, can be defined in many different ways. They’re a person who plays a role in the protagonist’s life. They reveal key details for the story. They motivate the protagonist. They foil the plans. They push the plot forward. They can do so many things and none of them are wrong or bad. But I want to focus on something else they can do to make the story even better.

Side characters can add depth.

If you have any sort of theme at all in your story then you’re constantly trying to find ways to go deeper with it and create an even better experience for your readers. One way to do this is for your reader to see all the different avenues of the theme and for them to choose their own path so to speak. Your protagonist has their own story to tell but what if they could see all the ways their path could go right or wrong? Enter side characters.

Giving Side Characters Meaning

Let’s say your protagonist is a teenage girl named Katrina who lives in a home where her parents are constantly fighting. Katrina’s never happy and neither are her parents. She decides to take matters into her own hands and force her parents into situations that will make them see how wonderful they are together, thus making them happy again. This is an idea that you could build off of and make emotionally impactful, but let’s take it a step forward.

Katrina meets someone at school who is constantly happy and, in Katrina’s eyes, living a wonderful life. They strike up a conversation and Katrina discovers that this girl’s parents are divorced. She learns that this girl’s parents used to be as unhappy as her own currently are but now that they’re separate, life is so much better.

This instantly gives Katrina a new viewpoint. Now she’s having thoughts such as what if her parents did get divorced? Would life be better then? Now she’s torn and struggling all because this side character gave her another way to view her own problems.

So much can now be built off this development. Katrina will most likely change her plan and leave her parents to their fighting or maybe even encourage their fighting just so they will end up getting a divorce. Deep down she doesn’t want that to happen but she wants to be happy in the long run.

Then it happens. They sign the papers and her dad moves out of the house. But the girl at school isn’t done yet with her role.

Maybe Katrina goes over to this girl’s house and tells her what happened. Maybe this other girl opens up as well and tells Katrina that she’s actually miserable. She misses it when her parents were together and she hates having to go back and forth between parents. All her happiness was actually just a show. Again, this shows the protagonist how her future might end up if her parents really go through with this divorce. Suddenly she’s more torn than ever.

Did you see what happened there? When we started with the simple idea of a girl’s parents fighting it sounded like an interesting story, but once we added the girl at school the story suddenly had so much more depth. That can happen in your own stories just as easily.

Adding Depth To Your Own Side Characters

This all sounds fine and dandy but it’s easier said than done, isn’t it? How can you replicate this into your own stories? To be honest with you, it’s really not as hard as you might be thinking. Let me explain it better.

  1. Define Your Theme

Before you can decide how your side character is going to play an important role in your story, you have to narrow down on your theme. Also decide what path your protagonist is going to take throughout this theme. That will help you decide what path your side character(s) are going to take.

  1. How Can It Go Right?

Now that you have your theme decided as well as how your protagonist is going to react to it, you can decide which path your side character can take. The first option is for your side character to show how things could go right for the protagonist. As with our earlier example, the girl from school could have told Katrina how she had successfully gotten her parents back together by using situations to throw them together and love one another again.

  1. How Can It Go Wrong?

On the other hand, however, your side character could show your protagonist how everything could go wrong. Maybe the girl from school managed to keep her parents together but their marriage is still just as terrible. This could show Katrina how even if she did get her parents to stay together, that may not result in what she’s after.

  1. How Many Side Characters Do You Need?

Another struggle writers can have with side characters is how many they should have. Too often writers add too many to their story and it quickly becomes confusing remembering all the faces. My advice is to consider giving one or two side characters more than one role instead of creating five or so with each one only having one role to play. This is a great trick to cut back and make the remaining more meaningful.

The Result

In the end, this is guaranteed to make for a stronger story and be more enjoyable to your readers. Side characters are one of my favorite aspects of storytelling while writing and reading them. If done right. Because if they are done wrong then they can just as easily ruin or stagnate a book.

When done right, however, side characters are invaluable to anyone’s story. Imagine Pride and Prejudice without Jane and Lydia as side characters and sub plots. Imagine Robin Hood without Little John – the book wouldn’t be near as great without him. Or even Little Women without Laurie. Each one of these side characters along with so many more add so much to the whole theme of the books, the whole feel even. Without them, they wouldn’t be near the masterpieces they are with them.

Your turn!

Do you enjoy reading or writing side characters? Do you struggle with them? Do you have any tips on how to give them more depth?

Blessings, Allyson


10 thoughts on “Using Side Characters to Add Depth in Your Story

    1. Haha! Well, in the end the main character is always the hero and the one we root for, we wouldn’t want it any other way, but side characters can enhance that journey for them so much! I think they’re a blast!! 😂


      1. Hmm…fair point, unless we’re talking Julius Caesar…LOL!! (Although Brutus and Cassius weren’t worthy of being rooted for…hah.) But I agree; they do enhance the journey! Sometimes that best friend can be needed for a scene of humor to lighten the past weighty chapters…LOL!!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Haha!! I’m actually not familiar with Julias Caesar though I’ve really wanted to read Shakespeare for awhile now! So I’ll take your word for it, lol! 😂 Definitely! I currently have a side character who is always the life of the party. My story is never boring when he’s in the scene. 😆 (I have to remind that he’s NOT the main character, lol!) I totally agree!


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