Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Supporting Characters

Supporting Characters

Hospital Bed I’m learning what it feels like to have a supporting role in my wife’s broken-leg drama. She garners all the attention and sympathy while I’m tasked with picking up all the duties she normally performs, leaving no time for my own pursuits. Now, this particular drama isn’t one I’d want to star in mind you, but it’s started me thinking about supporting characters in general, and what their true purpose is.

This is some of the activities I’ve been working on in the last two weeks instead of running and writing and drinking:

  • Cleaned the family room so we can put in a hospital bed (pictured above)
  • Cleaned the kitchen (a daunting task)
  • Hosted a BBQ for her friends
  • Bought special pillows and sheets for the hospital bed
  • Bought a special basket and accessories for her walker
  • Took her to the hospital in the middle of the night to be re-cast
  • Dispensed the 13 different meds she needs to take
  • Hand RailsInstalled some lovely handrails (they came out real nice. I rounded the ends with a circular sander and stained them with some random wood stain I picked up. The end result looks much better than I had hoped, and walking up and down those 2 steps is now easier for me as well). Also added rails to the toilet (pictured below).
  • Handled all the shopping and transportation of kids to classes and appointments
  • Walked/groomed/fed the dog

Meanwhile, this is what my wife has accomplished in the same time:

  • Hurt
  • Hurt some more
  • Hurt instead of sleep
  • Take maximum doses of Rx painkillers
  • Hobble
  • Miss out on two incredibly important trips

This all brings me around to the role of the supporting characters. I’ve realized a couple of key points:

  1. Supporting characters do all the work (while the hero endures heavy emotional trauma and of course physical pain)
  2. Supporting characters have their own story arc and challenges to face
  3. Supporting characters are wholly underappreciated

This is one of the major flaws that I’ve been correcting in Dawn’s Rise. I’ve focused all my attention on Dawn, and completely neglected my supporting characters. When it comes down to it, Dawn doesn’t really do anything. She doesn’t save the world. She doesn’t fight the bad guys. She’s half crazy and a pretty poor leader. In fact, one could argue that she’s not even worthy of hero status (I’ve got other posts somewhere that explain why she is the hero, mostly because she sacrifices the most, blah blah blah). John creates the plan to save humanity. Sam figures out the cause of all the disasters and validates Dawn’s paranoia. Maj. Edwards puts together her army. Alpha captures the equipment they need. Kaila defends her from an attack.

But my supporting characters don’t really have complete arcs. Dawn’s Aunt Rose shows up once and then disappears. She’s Dawn’s only link to her past and I killed her off. Um…no. Need to fix that. John does all this heroic stuff in his own right, but what does he really learn from it? What’s his transformation? Where are his flaws? I have elements here and there:

  • Alpha, the secretive commando leader, must become a father instead of a commander to his children/troops.
  • Kaila, the only female commando, must learn that there’s another side to life besides fighting, and she can allow herself to be a woman.
  • Sam, who could have easily become Chairman instead of Dawn, must stop playing second fiddle in his own life.
  • Major Edwards must come to grips with his grief over losing his family (as most characters must, but he’s particularly shaken)
  • Rose, Dawn’s aunt, must stop playing the victim all the time and take responsibility for her life.
  • John must also take charge of his life. He must also allow himself to care for someone who drives him crazy (don’t we all).

And then, of course, we have the anti-supporting character, the villain, who also needs an arc.

  • Susan, the evil corporate Chairman, must reassert her power at all costs.

This is kind of a negative arc, probably worthy of a separate blog post.

I still have a handful of supporting characters I haven’t even mentioned: Brenda, Izzy, Missy, Joe, Angela, Delta, Muhammad Saed, Mya (Dawn’s dead mother), and more. They all show up at random times and either help or hinder the rest of the characters, but most of them don’t really have their own stories. I need to fix that. This experience has taught me a much greater appreciation for supporting characters, and how they can make or break the hero’s journey.

So as an aspiring Supporting Character, I’m working out my own story arc: Iapetus999 must find a way to publish his breakthrough novel while tending to his stricken and immobilized wife and two children. Can he succeed in reaching his dream or will the financial and emotion burdens force him back into the wretched workforce?

Stay tuned. Who knows where my dreams may wind up?The Shitter


  1. I don't remember where I realized that if you take away the supporting figures, you've just got a heroic figurehead. Heroes seldom are half as interesting/intriguing as their side-kicks. Maybe that's because usually the hero doesn't have a choice... But somehow the supporting characters have usually chosen to be there, in some way or another.

  2. I think the best supporting characters I've ever read were in Stephen Donaldson's "White Gold Wielder" series. In one of the books, the hero has some kind of mental issue where all he says is "don't touch me" but the supporting characters come through and save the day. I wish mine were half as well written.

  3. Oooh, this means I'm the hero? Yay me!

  4. Oh, I'm Mrs. Iapetus999, by the way. Shoulda mentioned that in the first response. I blame the pain meds.

  5. I'm very glad to hear that you are coping with all the crap life has thrown at you lately. AND finding useful writing guidance from it. You are amazing! :-)

  6. You just have to make sure that your supporting characters don't take over the story. I had an evil corporate executive who was supposed to be the hero of her own story (villains never think they are villains)and she ended up being the hero of the whole darn thing. I think. It kind of got muddled, so I'm not sure who the true hero is, but the story still works.


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