Darling Supporting Characters

On my very first archetype post, Amy, from the blog Inkcouragenent, asked if I could have a post about secondary characters.  I am ending the archetype series with this topic, because it is an archetype that is sometimes an afterthought in writing.  When plotting out your story and characters, do not forget about these secondary (or supporting characters, as I like to call them).  They are the backbone to your main character.

Supporting characters exist for one reason: to add depth to the protagonist.

The sole purpose for these characters is to interact with the protagonist and, to some extent, enable that character to grow.  The supporting characters do things within a story to affect the main character, leading to reader to see the different dimensions of the protagonist.  This character type may be multi-faceted and can temporarily redirect the plot to give him or herself more backstory, which feeds back into the protagonist’s character or story.

John Watson, of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famed Sherlock Holmes mysteries, is an epic supporting character.  Watson gives Sherlock immeasurable depth.

“Watson also serves as the important function of catalyst for Holmes’ mental process.”  – William L. DeAndrea

The supporting role of Watson, who in a way is dubbed a sidekick and occasional flatmate, is Sherlock’s sounding board.  He helps the great detective’s mind to tick.  He is Holmes’ stimulation.

Not all secondary characters have to fall into the character archetype.  As with all archetypes, the list is innumerable.  So within this post, I will restrict the list to just a few.

The Villain / Nemesis:  This is a tough one to categorize, because in one aspect, the villain is typically the antagonist.  However, a story usually revolves around the protagonist.  Therefore, even if a Villain is the antagonist of the protagonist, that villain is also supporting the protagonist.  The villain is adding depth in some way or fashion to the main character by driving the character to be good (or evil, depending on how you look at the dichotomy between the two characters).   Examples: Moriarty (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes), Voldemort (The Harry Potter series), Hannibal Lecter (Silence of the Lambs)

Send in the Clowns!  (c) GaborfromHungary

Send in the Clowns! (c) GaborfromHungary

The Lover: This character is one of the few that can bring the protagonist pure happiness or utter despair, for unrequited love is a major source for conflict.  The Lover character can possibly be the driving force for the main character, where all of his or her actions through out a story are based upon influences of The Lover.  Examples: Juliette (Romeo and Juliet), Mattie Silver (Ethan Frome), Annabel Lee

The Sidekick: This character stands by the character’s side through thick and thin. However, there will be an element of conflict that will arise between the two.  Depending on the grounds for the conflict, it may resolve peacefully or volatility.  The latter usually results in the supporting character becoming an antagonist or dying, but that is for a post on another day.  Examples:  Iago (Othello), Friday (Robinson Crusoe), Sancho Panza (Don Quixote)

The Mentor: This character gives guidance and passes on valuable information to the protagonist to assist the character on his or her journey.  In some situations where a protagonist may have been orphaned or have an abusive parent, the Mentor character may be viewed by the protagonist as a mother or father figure.  This provides the main character with an element of family.  Examples:  Merlin (King Arthur), Gandalf (Lord of the Rings), Van Helsing (Dracula)

The Clown / Fool:  This character may be the Sidekick or an entity upon his or her own.  The Clown provides comic relief and a conscience to the protagonist.  The Clown also give the main character an invitation to freedom.  Characteristics of this character are often portrayed with hilarity and jolly, however he or she can lie on the antagonistic side of the main character.  Typically if the character is treated well, as a best friend, he or she is a good character.  If the Clown is treated bad, especially by the villain, then he or she is often a bad character.  Examples: Bottom (Midsummer Nights Dream), The Mad Hatter / March Hare / Door Mouse (Alice in Wonderland), Haymitch (The Hunger Games series)

If you would like additional details on the archetypes listed here or to see a longer list of character archetypes, which contains additional characters that could fall under the supporting character archetype, refer to the 13 Characters post.

I hope you have enjoyed the Archetype Series that have graced the pages of The Sarcastic Muse over these past few weeks.  If there are any other archetypes that you wish to explore further, please comment below.  If you have missed any of the past Archetype Series posts and would like to refer to them, click here.

Don’t forget… it is okay to kill your Darlings (characters that is — not your living darlings.  The latter would not be cool).


Great Guest Post by Marcy McKay

Go, Marcy!Hey, all, just wanted to pop on to say one of our community  members has a guest post at Melissa Donovan’s site today.  Most of you probably know who Marcy McKay is from the comments. Her post over at Writing Forward is fantastic. Just wanted to share and encourage you to check it out. :) Marcy’s contact information is on her post. If you haven’t read either Write on Fire or Write Naked, I encourage you to check them out.

Writing Fluid Fiction: How To Use Italics

I’ve put on my editing hat before to break down the difference between passive and active voice, discuss grammatical aspect (the progressive and perfect forms of verbs), and even to give an overview of good and bad repetition. Today I’d like to discuss a topic I don’t read about too often: how to use italicized text effectively in your writing.

Writing Fluid Fiction: How to Use Italics

This is what an overkill of italics looks like to an editor.

I see the overuse of italics most often in novels that are supposed to be from the third-person limited POV. Newer writers may rely on  first-person internal monologues because they have not yet mastered the voice of their character or because they do not fully understand how to write from a tight third-person POV. But as a rule, in stories written from the third-person limited POV, unspoken discourse does not require (and in fact should not have) large amounts of exposition in the form of italicized first-person thoughts.

Why is this? Well, it’s both a.) distracting (italics is physically more difficult to read, and readers may be inclined to skip it) and b.) a sign that you’re telling the reader instead of showing.

So when is italics used successfully?

For emphasis:

To remind the reader of previously said information (and its importance) or to emphasize a memory:

[Shadow’s] fingers closed around the Liberty dollar in his pocket, and he remembered Zorya Polunochnaya, and the way she had looked at him in the moonlight. Did you ask her what she wanted? It is the wisest thing to ask the dead. Sometimes they will tell you.

“Laura . . . What do you want?” [Shadow] asked. – Neil Gaiman, American Gods, pg 220

The memory of what Zorya told him prompts Shadow to ask Laura the question (essential for story progression). The rhythm doesn’t miss a beat.

To show the reader something said or shown to the character in the past that doesn’t necessarily qualify for quotation marks:

You always knew when you were playing one of those because a little Coelacanth symbol would come up on the screen. Coelacanth. Prehistoric deep-sea fish, long supposed extinct until specimens found in mid-twentieth. Present status unknown.” – Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake, pg 81

The italicized text shows information a character has once seen and is now recalling. He’s more or less quoting it to himself, but the text itself doesn’t warrant quotations.

To stress a word in a particular sentence. This is much like punctuation in that it controls the way a reader reads a specific word.

“But I can assure you,” said Stone, with another smiley smile, “we are the good guys. . .” – American Gods, pg 212

To differentiate situations of alternating time, speakers, or speech:

To differentiate telepathy (mind speech) from normal spoken dialogue. It’s still important to use quotations, even for mind speech.

To differentiate from a position within the narrative to one outside of it:

[From the character Shadow] “Frontier times?”

“You might call it that,” said Mr. Ibis. “Evening Miz Simmons! And a Merry Christmas to you too! The folk who brought me here came up the Mississippi a long time back.” –  American Gods, page 281

We can see that Mr. Ibis has temporarily turned away from the conversation to greet Miss Simmons (who is outside the conversation itself and clearly interrupts it). But Gaiman doesn’t waste time telling us that. He could have written (and would have been forced to edit) something like this:

“You might call it that,” said Mr. Ibis, greeting Miss Simmons, who had just wished him a Merry Christmas, before turning back to Shadow. “The folk who . . .”

But that’s terrible, isn’t it?

Another example is when the character hears the voice of someone else in his head (as in hallucination). The character’s own thoughts remain in a regular font; the voice intruding from the “outside” would thus be in italics.

To differentiate thoughts from regular prose. When done correctly, a character’s thoughts will show something to the reader: his state of mind, some aspect of his personality, a deepening of his POV. But writers should be wary of having the character tell the reader his thoughts rather than showing them. Despite what one may think, there’s a huge difference. See below.

The Good:

But the thought of being there without her, surrounded by her things, her scent, her life, was simply too painful . . .

Don’t go there, thought Shadow. He decided to think about something else. He thought about coin tricks. Shadow knew that he did not have the personality to be a magician: he could not weave the stories that were so necessary for belief, nor did he wish to do card tricks, nor produce paper flowers. But he just wanted to manipulate coins; he liked the craft of it. – American Gods, pages 85-86

Notice Gaiman just gives us a taste; he relies on the strength of his own narrative voice to continue the scene. A dash of italics spices things up (like rhythm) but isn’t overkill.

The Bad (Mr. Gaiman, please forgive me for what I am about to do to your scene):

I don’t want to think about being there without her. It’s too painful. I’ll think about something else. He thought about coin tricks, even knowing that he did not have the personality to be a magician. I can’t weave the stories that are so necessary for belief. I don’t want to do card tricks or produce flowers either. I just want to manipulate coins. He liked the craft of it.

Compare the tight prose of Gaiman and then the mess I made of it by relying on an internal monologue. Do people ever think that way directly? It’s a train wreck.

For basic copy edit and other stylistic reasons:

  • Titles of novels, television shows, movies, and other things of that nature
  • Quotations heading chapters, whether they come from existing or invented fiction
  • Song lyrics, lines of poetry, and letters within the story
  • Foreign words and scientific names

What do you think? Do italics distract you? Have any examples of where they work? Any instances you’re unsure about? Let me know in the comments!

Life Happens to Writers, Too

Life Happens to Writers, TooWriters are not machines. To put it bluntly: shit happens. The trick for artistic people is to know when to cut ourselves slack and when we’re facing issues of discipline, motivation, or resistance.

The best part about creativity is that we crave it and are generally happy to be working on our craft, even when stories aren’t going our way or we are experiencing a high degree of resistance. For that reason, the inability to “work,” in this case write, makes me uncomfortable and feel like a slacker.

I’m the kind of person who brings my laptop to day surgery thinking I’ll get a chapter written while I’m waiting to be released (I didn’t) . I took a 10,000 word short story to the emergency room (and actually got basic revisions completed in the 12 hours we were there). I’m not a machine, but I am driven. I love what I do and I am motivated.

So what do we do when life gets in the way? How do we get work done when the baby is up all night with colic, or we sit in emergency for a day with an ill spouse, or we have a medical procedure that knocks us on our butt?

The short answer is that sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we need to take sick leave from writing and concentrate on getting better or nursing a loved one. Or, if you are like me, at least take time away from “productive” writing. In my world, that’s fiction and revision of fiction.

You might not be able to concentrate for revisions. That’s okay. Work on the back cover blurb or follow up on research. If you’re used to putting out 2k words or more a day, give yourself permission to be happy with 250 words for a little while.

Why is this relevant, Robyn? Sensible people know when they should take time off.

Ah, but creatives are often not sensible in that way. We are driven by our need to create and our love of the process. Taking time away feels like punishment sometimes, and downright failure at others. I am blessed to have writing as my full-time focus at this point, and a missed day feels like I’m letting down all the writers who are squeezing writing time into busy careers and families.

But sometimes even the un-sensible, driven creative person loses the battle. That’s when we need to give ourselves grace. I’m not very good at that, actually. Sometimes I have to ask the Muses to give me the grace I can’t seem to give myself.

And, as one of the Muses pointed out to me recently, taking the break and concentrating on healing means I’ll be back to wordsmithing that much sooner.

As long as you understand the difference between resistance or laziness (we all get that way sometimes) and the true need to take time away, give your writing a rest and take the time you need to deal with life issues.

Life after Death

“Nature herself demands a death and rebirth.”  -C.G Jung

Death and Rebirth has to be one of my favorite plot and character archetypes.  I know what you are thinking, “Amanda, it is only your favorite because it deals with death.”  You would not be completely incorrect in that assumption, because I love me some dead things!  However, what really draws me to this archetype is the transition that occurs for a character who is placed with a Death / Rebirth situation.

This archetype is a clear cut and dry transition, where a character transform from one type of person into a completely different kind by the end of the story.  There is a hard, black line drawn in that transformation, differentiating the two ends.  That differs from many other archetypal transformation, because with those types, there is usually a gradual change from one end of the spectrum to the other.  Usually this results in a blending of the character from the beginning with the character at the end, where the final character exhibits traits of the old and new character.

When you see “Death and Rebirth” that does not necessarily mean that a character dies and is resurrected (though, that kind of scenario makes for fantastic horror stories).  You can have a character that transforms in a way he or she completely cuts out their old life and takes on a new life.  This can be a physical, mental, or emotional transformation.  The key is to have there be a clear definition of a past life as one character and a new life as another character.

Zombies: The ultimate Death and Rebirth Archetypal Character @Patryk Hejduk https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/

Zombies: The ultimate Death and Rebirth Archetypal Character @Patryk Hejduk https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/

There also has to be an event or some sort of episode that triggers this transformation.  A character cannot just haphazardly begin a transformation without a catalyst.  The forms that a catalyst can take on is innumerable. It can range anywhere from a character’s wife leaving him for another man or a character witnessing something so horrific, that her entire life is changed because of that event.  A perfect literary example that shows a blatant catalyst, which sends a character spinning into the transformation phase, can be found within H.P Lovecraft’s Dagon (If you have not read it, I suggest you do so… right now… or else).  Without giving away the story, because it is deliciously creepy, the narrator happens upon an “island” to where he uncovers cosmic horrors that end up scarring him for the rest of his life, so much so that when he returns to civilization, he is a completely different (and mad) man.  The catalyst of that story is the narrator stepping foot on the island.  That is where the line was drawn, his “death”, and the point of transformation  from his past life towards his future self.  The narrators rebirth occurs when he steps foot off the island, leaving the island as a completely different man.

The part that I love most about this archetype is that the outcome of the plot can be good or bad.  A character can come out of the transformation as good or evil.  There is no one set way that the Death / Rebirth archetype has to flow, except for remembering that there is a hard line in the transformation that the ending character / setting / etc.  has to be different from the beginning.

When you are working on your own material and if you think that you want to use the Death / Rebirth archetype, remember to play up the Symbolism.  Symbolism can be an intellectual piece utilized in portraying a Death / Rebirth plot.  Somes examples are: Morning and Spring usually represent birth or youth, while evening and Autumn can represent death or old age.  You can slip in Death / Rebirth nuances all through your story just by using symbolic references.  I have a habit of doing this with my stories all the time!

Have no fear over using this archetype because because it has “death” in its name.  It is okay to kill your character (ahem, Kirsten).  It is also perfectly acceptable to use this archetype and NOT kill your characters, though where is the fun in that?

BDSM in the Writer’s Mind

After watching Chris dig his belongings out of the dumpster and haul them up four flights of stairs, I wondered how sadistic we, the muses, could possibly be. I’m teasing, he only had to haul it up two flights.

But the mention of sadism reminds me…I wanted to clarify my post on BDSM from two weeks ago. Some of you were left wondering what in the heck I was talking about and how it related to writing.

It was a clarification post. With all of the hoopla surrounding *cough* The-Book-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named, I felt it necessary as an author of erotic romance to clarify the common misconceptions about BDSM, since I just attended a workshop and got a crash course in it myself. I did so because I write stories incorporating softer elements of the lifestyle in my stories. Why? Because they intrigue me and because I can.

Jen, what does BDSM have to do with writing in general? I mean we all know why YOU like it. *giggles hush at the piercing glare I send at the peanut gallery that is my writing group*

So in defense of my fascination…I would like to share the connections I’ve made in my writer brain using the acronym itself and how it merges with a writer.

Bondage and Discipline

Domination and Submission

Sadism and Masochism

Alright, let me break it down. I’ve realized that as a writer, all of these terms are keys to my writing. I’m not talking about it in the context of the lifestyle anymore. I’m turning these into WRITER’s terms now.

As a writer we are Bound to our craft. We get so tied up in it that it leaves us helpless, whimpering, sometimes sobbing on the floor, but we are always anticipating what happens next…sometimes with trepidation, but always with a hint of delight.

It takes Discipline to keep up with the ideas in our minds and be the prolific authors we all desire and strive to be. We have to use every whip in our arsenal to motivate ourselves to sit in the chair and WRITE. Punishment and deprivation can sometimes be a powerful motivator.

We are Masochists…we write, polish, edit, submit, plot, and lose sleep over the stories that Dominate us and force us into Submission. And while we don’t love every moment of us, every painful reminder ignites the pleasure in our soul that makes us crave more. Inevitably, we come back to our Master and subject ourselves in hopes of a reward.

We are Sadists. We torture our characters, putting them in unbelievable situations with unbearable agony and guide them wounded and broken to the end of their stories. They are ours to create and care for…and we provide them with endless trials to bring them to the brink of their destinies.


My next post will focus on the use of the Dom/sub dynamic and how it can enhance your story by highlighting the power dynamics between your characters. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to post them below. I look forward to hearing from you all.

Does my assessment of the BDSM for writer’s make sense? Or have I completely fallen off the train and am now going to be digging my belongings out of the dumpster?

Thanks for stopping by today.

<3 Jen.

The Butler DIDN’T do it…

The Butler DIDN'T do it...I don’t believe it. I missed one post and now I’m fishing my belongings out of the dumpster behind SarMus Towers, [location redacted]. My workstation, I’m informed, is “in the dog” which just means that Amanda has fed it to her latest…pet. This post (maybe my last) is being dictated into my phone whilst I cower in the bathroom. Five angry muses are already pounding on the door and threatening to call security. I can only hope they mean human security…send help.

I’ll be out in a minute!

Anyway…where was I?

Surprise ending, or ‘twist in the tale’ stories have long been the favourite of crime and thriller writers (horror writers too). It doesn’t take a genius (trust me) to write an ending readers don’t see coming; just about anyone can do it. The problem is that, unless it’s done properly, they have a way of losing the audience or leaving them feeling tricked and disheartened. Today’s tip is intended to give you a few pointers towards good practice.

I love stories, novels and movies with twist endings. They make me read/watch more closely than I normally would, urging me to spot the subtle turns that eventually lead to the ‘true’ ending. Most times, I even read/watch them again just to make sure there’s nothing I’ve missed. There’s nothing better than following the clues in the hope of guessing the ending before the big reveal. I’ve even started doing it with books/movies that have a typical ending, which can be very frustrating when you realise there were no clues to begin with. It’s enough to make a guy paranoid….

I digress.

How to write a twist

1. Know your ending

Writing a surprise ending can be difficult. There are so many questions we need to answer before we start. How many clues can I drop before they give away my ending? Is that clue too obvious? Is a surprise ending even right for this story? When does my ending stop being a surprise and start becoming silly? When should I make the reveal? These are all valid questions which I will answer and the answer is: ‘I have no idea’. That’s not entirely true, the answer should be ‘I have no idea. What do you think?’

I know there are some out there who feel stifled writing from an outline but this is one instance where I find them invaluable. If you’re going to deceive your readers and send them meandering down the wrong path, you need to know where it will eventually end. Knowing your intended ending allows you to time your reveal and plant the (seemingly innocuous) clues along the way.

2. Bait the trap

You may have the greatest ending ever bestowed upon mankind, but that’s all for nothing if no one makes it to the end. Just because a story has a great twist doesn’t mean we can ignore the other elements that make the reader invest their time. Believable characters, good narrative, and that perfect opening line are all things that bait the trap and keep the reader turning the page.

3. Misdirection

Readers become absorbed in good narrative, sympathise with fully-rounded characters and, in most cases, completely fail to see that you’re taking them for a ride. Surprise ending stories rely heavily on the writer’s ability to redirect the reader’s attention away from the truth and carefully steer them towards a false truth. Its success depends on how well you know your story (see where plotting comes in handy?) because it’s only when you fully understand where you’re going that you can start changing the signposts around.

4. Leave footprints, drop breadcrumbs

Misdirection and deception are great tools in a writer’s arsenal but our goal is to give our readers a reason to return time and time again. We do not want our readers to feel like we’ve betrayed their trust, mislead or tricked them. The best way to prevent this is to show that the clues were there all along, had they looked just a little closer. Scattering subtle hints and clues throughout not only serves to keep the reader’s interest, but also prevents the appearance of a deus ex machina ending. A wildly juxtaposed ending feels a little like a cop-out unless you realise that the hints were there from the start.

NOTE: It’s easy to get caught up in the narrative and forget to drop the odd clue, or even the right clue. I have been guilty of this too. In fact, posted on my own blog is an example of where I know I got it wrong and that’s here. I was so caught up with the narrative that I failed to reference an intended ‘meat’ sandwiches clue (something I also managed to miss in the edits, but that’s a story for another time). The result was a somewhat abrupt ending, at least that’s what I think. You have been warned.

5. The big reveal

When should I make the reveal? Very simply, from the very first sentence. The key to a great reveal is the gradual building of tension through your clues, misdirection and exceptional narrative which culminate in that all important crescendo. It keeps returning to how well you know your story and how well you plant your clues. The best reveals are always hinted at from the very start, most often to be overlooked by the reader.

6. When in doubt…

Surprise endings are the types of stories that really do benefit from a second pair of eyes. Beta-readers are invaluable for spotting any wayward clues, or not so subtle hints, which may ‘blow the lid’ on the truth. They are also pretty good at reigning endings back to the realms of the believable when we get a little too carried away.

I mean it, send help. They’re almost in. They’re…[Transmission ends].

 How do you write your twist endings? What story/novel have you read with a really great twist?

Final Call! Win a Free Copy of Shadows Wake!

Win a Free Copy of Shadows Wake!So tomorrow is the last day to enter Robyn LaRue’s giveaway for her YA novel, Shadows Wake.

Do you like Native American legends? A dash of history? Coming-of-age stories with hints of the supernatural? Great characters? Then you don’t want to miss the opportunity to win a copy!

To register for the giveaway click HERE.

What’s Shadows Wake about?

A Native American legend. A small town in the grip of a haunting secret . . .

Now that the old bear is dead, not even rumors of toxic gas can keep sixteen-year-old Lillian Pratt from exploring the abandoned mine.

Lillian and three classmates find themselves drawn to the mountain and the secrets it holds. But an ancient evil is awakening. A shadow is stretching over the town, plaguing the citizens with nightmares and fear.

In order to make sense of the town’s history as well as her own, Lillian must learn to trust her new friends, her first love, and confront her family’s past. Will she find the strength to overcome the darkness, or will she lose everything she’s come to love?

Here’s a never-before-seen excerpt:

Molly gave them her nicest table by the window. They were a youngish couple, wearing outdoor clothes and hiking boots. Their open faces and the obvious affection between them held my attention, but it was the woman who riveted me. What a deep joy for life she must have.

“So what will it be today?” Molly asked when she’d brought them iced tea. The couple chatted with her and settled on their choices. Eavesdropping earned me their names, John and Margaret.

As soon as Molly left their table, Jake Thompson shoved his hat back on his head and moseyed over to their table. “You folks visiting Gold Hill?” he asked.

“Yes,” Margaret said, a smile lighting her face. “Such a lovely little town.”

“We’re here to do some hiking,” her husband added.

“Mountains still be cold. Winter doesn’t release its grip ’til summer.”

“It won’t be as cold as some of the places we hiked in Europe,” the man said with a laugh.

“What path you planning on taking?” Jake asked.

“We’re going to hike south out of the valley and eventually come down on the other side of Gold Mountain,” the man replied.

Jake creased his brow, sudden tension in his shoulders. “You’d have a better hike if you crossed the pass and headed south from there, or better yet, went through Mountain Meadows Reservoir.”

“We’ll be fine.”

“No, really,” Fred added from the counter. “The hike south of here is full of wild animals. We’ve been having problems. And parts of it are treacherous.”

The couple looked at each other in confusion. “Maybe we should cross the pass—” Margaret began.

“Nonsense, dear. Our route is well planned. We’ll stick to our path.”

Tension wafted into the diner, filling the empty spaces, pressing on us all.

“Suit yourself,” Jake said, lifting his shoulders. “Nothin’ but danger on that path, though.” He moved back to the counter and sat next to Fred.

Slowly, the hum and buzz of conversation picked up again. Cassandra leaned across the table. “Do you think they will have nightmares, too?”

“I sure hope not,” I answered.