Character Development Screenwriting

How to craft EXCEPTIONAL secondary characters

We always get wrapped up in writing our protagonists and antagonists, but have you spent enough time on your secondary characters?

Supporting characters can be key pieces to your storytelling puzzle, and you must craft every one of them carefully. 

Secondary characters add dimensions to your story, they shape your world and deserve attention. Let’s give the supporting cast a bit more time, a little more character and grow them into fully formed characters. 

In this article, we will help you understand what a secondary character is. We will also show you how to develop stronger, more complete supporting characters

Let’s dive in! 

What is a secondary character?

A secondary character is a character that is a supporting cast member of the story. This may seem that they hold little to no value, but this is simply untrue. 

The supporting cast holds essential, critical pieces of information to help shape the story. They can hold your protagonist back, they can motivate them, or they can simply add stumbling blocks to disrupt the main story arc. 

They are responsible for progressing your story in some way. This can be the means of becoming a stumbling block, helping push your protagonist to reach for their goals. Or, they could just be there with a singular scene that changes the course of the story. 

However small or large their role is, you must consider crafting a multi-dimensional supporting character, or they’ll end up being pretty flat. 

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What’s your secondary character’s purpose?

Purpose is king. 

With all your characters within your script, they MUST serve a purpose. And, it’s the same with any secondary characters. 

If they don’t serve a purpose, they’ll essentially weigh your story down; they are there for no apparent reason. You need to make sure they have a reason and serve a purpose within the storyline. 

Here’s a couple of examples of how secondary characters serve a purpose within your storyline: 

  • They can reveal more to your story and help influence the world you are building within your story. 
  • They can advance a backstory that helps develop the main storyline or thickens the plot. 
  • The secondary character can advance the plot when the protagonist cannot. 
  • The supporting character highlights certain aspects of the protagonist’s character, which you wouldn’t have seen without the supporting character drawing it from them.

These are some of the ways that your secondary character can help develop the story. They add more layers to your protagonist and ultimately create an engaging, gripping storyline for your audience. 

Read More: Our top 9 screenwriting tips to help you become a better screenwriter

The different types of supporting characters

Some characters will appear more than others in your script. However, they will always serve a purpose in your story. The secondary characters are integral to developing your plot. 

Some of your supporting characters serve a specific purpose, and others will be generic supporting characters. By generic, we mean a specific type of secondary character that appears in a lot of movies to serve a purpose. 

Here are a few examples of the general types of supporting characters below:

  • A Villain
  • The Love Interest
  • A Sidekick 
  • The Mentor

However, not all secondary characters fit into these categories. Fear not, we’ve developed some essential tips for you to craft exceptional secondary characters. 

Simply scroll below!

How to craft EXCEPTIONAL secondary characters

Here we are! 

These are the tips to consider when writing your secondary, supporting characters. Using these tips will help you develop multidimensional secondary characters, which will improve your story arc no end. 

Let’s check them out. 

Make them MEMORABLE!

Make your supporting character memorable. Create memorable characters by delving into their background, developing their personality and making them multi-dimensional. 

You need to create a character with depth, a spark and, most important, purpose. Your secondary characters need to serve a purpose; if they don’t – they’re utterly useless!

Make them stand out, grow their personality, explore their emotions and create a character that’s complete. 

Establish their interests, and develop your secondary characters point of view – this will add to their depth.

In no time, you will have a character that stands out, serves a purpose and most importantly, drives the story!

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Uniqueness. 

Yoshi and the Mario Bros.
Yoshi and the Mario Bros.

A bit of an add on to the above point. But you need to make your character unique. How do they walk? How do they talk? What makes them laugh? What angers them? 

You need to explore all avenues, really dig down into their personality, and figure out what makes them tick. 

Ask how they can affect your protagonist. It doesn’t need to be negative; this can be positive too. 

You need to understand these factors to ensure you produce well-rounded, exciting and unique characters that are will be purposely driving the story forward for the audience. 

Just a bit of a side note, but ensure you give them an actual name rather than cop #1. This will help you when creating the character and developing their personality further. 

Develop your secondary character fully.

Sometimes people skimp on the background of a secondary character. But, you must dig deeper. A secondary character is an essential part of your film. 

We recommend that you develop them using character development worksheets and other character developing exercises. 

We know you won’t use every single aspect of the character development process. But by having a well rounded supporting character will shape the story a lot better and will also give them a purpose.

It’s better to understand more about your character than less. Skimping on this step will only mean you create pointless, bare-bone supporting characters with no real purpose. 

Use them to develop your protagonist.

Think about characteristics you can delve into with your secondary character to help push the story and force your protagonist into making a move. 

The secondary character is used to develop your protagonist and allows you to reveal certain aspects of the story. They can create resistance or push your protagonist forward. 

Use your supporting characters wisely; make sure they serve the purpose of developing the story, whether this is causing havoc or simply making your protagonist make decisions to further the story. 

See them as an asset and develop them to the smallest of details to make them relevant and interesting to your audience. 

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Create a handful of supporting characters

Create a handful of secondary characters

Don’t create too many supporting characters. 

The reason we say this is that you may get over-excited and write an additional character for every scene to deliver certain information. 

This can confuse the audience, and they can get a bit lost with all the supporting characters. They will also start to seem quite similar, which won’t help your case. 

It’s best to note down each individual character and their purpose in the story. Then from this start to build out their personalities and backgrounds. 

This way, you’re creating unique characters with a specific purpose. If one can deliver certain obstacles more than once, make them do that. Don’t create a new character for each obstacle. 

You’ll find they’ll seem too similar, and the audience will become confused and distracted to work out which ones, which, and who’s who.

Keep it simple and unique.   

Give them a purpose

We’ve mentioned this a lot, but there must be a reason for a secondary character to exist! 

Why are they in this scene? 

They must have a reason to be there. Ask yourself why your supporting character is in the scene and how their presence will move the plot. 

As long as you understand each supporting character, you’ll be able to place them into a scene with a strong reason. Is it to upset your protagonist? Is it to provoke them? Is it to support them? 

Give them a purpose to be there and develop your plot. 

Mix your secondary characters up

Mix them up. Change the purpose of the secondary character

With secondary characters, make sure you mix them up. By this, we mean, don’t make them all good or all bad. Mix them up; they could even progress as the story goes on and move from a good person to a terrible one, causing your protagonist all sorts of problems. 

It’s great to keep them fresh and varied. This helps to keep your plot moving with different twists and turns, meaning your audience will stay focused, waiting on every twist and turn. 

Give each secondary character clear traits. Dive into the deep end and note down their fears or dreams. Make them unique and spell out exactly what they want in the story. This will help you place them in the right scene with a purpose or a goal. 

It also makes it interesting for the viewer. They get to latch onto all sorts of characters and find relatable points. A great one is sympathy. 

How can you make the audience sympathise with an evil dictator of a supporting character? 

Maybe they’re evil through jealousy or regret.  Most people have suffered from both emotions, immediately making the supporting character relatable. 

Simply mix up their appearance, desires and personalities. You’ll have some cracking secondary characters in no time. Experiment and explore!

The Director’s Cut

Well… Our summary. You get the idea!

You must serve a purpose with your supporting characters, and they have to be fully developed. You need them to push your protagonist and be unique, intriguing characters for the audience to latch onto. 

They need to be relevant, fully-formed and have some personality. This will help push and pull different emotions from your main character and help push them through the story. 

You want the supporting characters to push the story on and add something to the plot. 

This is why you must spend time crafting the complete secondary character. 

We hope this article on “How to craft EXCEPTIONAL secondary characters” was fun and informative! Let us know down in the comments what you think. 

Don’t forget to catch our latest screenwriting articles and resources below. 

Happy screenwriting!

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