Telling Main Characters and Important Side Characters Apart

Forums Fiction Characters Telling Main Characters and Important Side Characters Apart

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    Esmeralda Gramilton

    Hey, I love creating hundreds of characters per story and using them to incorporate the fact that other people’s lives are going on even when we only know what’s happening to the main characters.

    So, how do we differentiate? Which of my characters would easily be seen as main or side?

    for instance, I have two main organizations, the Protectors and the Omega Team. There are fifteen Protectors in the beginning, and they do training and stuff together throughout the first book. Are they all main characters, or are main characters usually only the POV characters?

    I’m not sure there’s a really, truly right answer, but I’d love some thoughts and opinions.

    “No-one can judge your worth; They can only influence your judgement of your own worth.” ~Elysso



    This is a very relatable problem. 😛

    I think main characters are the ones that are central to the plot and the most fleshed out by the events of the story. Supporting characters may have complex motivations and personalities, but these are usually developed in relation to the main characters. While supporting characters appear frequently, they probably won’t have any big roles outside of interacting with the main characters. So even though it’s good to think about these characters’ lives outside the main characters, when it comes to actually writing the story, these ‘outside’ parts should probably be covered briefly.

    For me, one way to try to figure this out is to think about the climax of your book. Who are those that actually have any business being involved in that? Now strip away all the ‘smaller’ obstacles and the associated characters who are only there to help/hinder things along. Those that remain should be your main characters (unless they have already died before that).

    Since you have a series, you can probably have different characters be the main characters in each book by planning around their character development based on the relevance of the events that occur. So perhaps the main character of your first book can become a supporting character in your second book if their development is mostly done and the focus can be given to the others.

    Esmeralda Gramilton


    That’s great advice, thanks so much!!

    “No-one can judge your worth; They can only influence your judgement of your own worth.” ~Elysso

    Josiah DeGraaf

    I largely second @valtmy. My gut is that you often don’t have more than, say, 6-7 truly main characters over the course of a novel. Unless it’s super-long or a part of a series, you simply don’t have time to flesh all of them out. The main dividing line I’d give is that main characters are complex and three-dimensional and that side characters are simple (in what we see of them) and two-dimensional. There’s always going to be grey characters that straddle the line, but that along with valtmy’s rubric would be the basic standards I’d fall back on here.

    Lit fanatic. Eclectic reader. Theology nerd. Writing fantasy at https://josiahdegraaf.com

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