Supporting the Story

Plan out a story.  Create a rich world with an intricate history and diverse inhabitants.  Craft a thrilling protagonist with admirable qualities, and a quirky cast of supporting characters.  Weave a gripping plot, and pit the protagonist against all odds, so that they may triumph in the end over adversity, and in so doing learn something about themselves.  And then, when the first word is ready to be written, don’t make the story about that protagonist.  And don’t make the story about the protagonist’s best friend.  Instead, make the story about one of the quirky supporting characters.

Why?  Why would one choose to do such a thing?  Because the vast majority of protagonists are boring.  They are “the everyman”, meant to relate to the audience by possessing neutral characteristics, but in trying to relate to everyone they cease to be a character and simply become an archetype, a cardboard cutout moved around from scene to scene for the purpose of the plot.  If the story didn’t dictate that they were important, would anyone care about them?  Do they have any endearing traits which make them stand out or make them memorable?  Do they do anything that only they could do, or are they just lucky?

A quirky side character does have endearing traits.  They do possess skills that only they could do.  Whereas a protagonist tends to be a jack of all trades but a master of none, a side character is more likely to have a small pool of specialty.  From the perspective of the meta-narrative, this is because the creator is trying to “round out” the cast and fill the specific niches of the portrayed society that the protagonist does not fill.  Often, side characters written solely to fill a niche will be a one-trick pony that exist to exemplify their defining trait and do little else for the narrative, such as the “computer hacker” character, or the “token black” character.

However, the side-effect of such an approach is that these loudly-defined characteristics the supporting cast possesses make them stick out in the audience’s mind, and should the audience enjoy, or even relate to such characteristics, they suddenly are able to compete with the protagonist and other main characters in terms of popularity.  Whereas main characters are made popular by what they do, side characters are made popular by what they are; a much more solid foundation for likability.

{Brought to you by:  me deciding tomorrow if I’m going to keep going with this or not.  Sometimes I think I’m not a considerate person by starting all these things and never finishing them.  Other times I think that if I don’t end up revisiting them, I didn’t actually care enough about it for continuing it to make much of a difference.}

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