You know that good boy or girl who rebelled and went to the dark side? The one special person who used to shine like the sun… then their soul suddenly turned black and never returned to the light. Do you remember how you felt when that happened? I bet you fell into a pit of despair. That change probably shook up your world. You know what…? That makes for an awesome story!
It is a spin on an alternate reality and it is best played with supporting characters. Truth be told, the transition of a main character from the light side to the dark side (or vice versa) is pretty thrilling (Hello, Anakin Skywalker). Yet, the shift with a main character is typically expected and has been done in many, many times. A story revolves around the protagonist and antagonist, so we journey with them on their descent into the darkness or ascent into the light.
When this alliance shift happens to a secondary character, who supports a main character (as a best friend, lover, parent, etc.), it is like a punch in the gut. The transition is completely unexpected. As a reader, in our minds we assume that a supporting character will always provide solace for a main character. He or she will be there to help the main character get through the conflicts in a story, not stab them in the back. When an author has a supporting character switch sides, turning against the main character, it is heart-stopping for the reader. We want the main characters to be supported, to not be abandoned. A secondary character’s fall from a protagonist’s or antagonist’s grace labels him / her as a traitor.
- The first key in transitioning a supporting character is to maintain trajectory: straight descent from light to dark or ascent from dark to light. A little waffling here and there is acceptable, but the ultimate goal is that at the very end of the supporting character’s part, he / she is on the exact opposite side in which they started.
- The second key is to allow the main characters / readers believe that there could be a redemption for the supporting character, shifting him / her back to his / her initial side. The crux of the supporting character’s transition, the point at where they stay on the newly chosen side, will be completely shocking to all parties involved in the story.
From the eyes of the main character, the supporting character has fallen. Fallen from the path that the protagonist or antagonist is following. With this fall away from the protagonist or antagonist, the supporting character becomes the antagonist of that main character. Confused yet? Well, you are a writer. You should be weaving webs like this. Intricacy is what makes a story interesting. By giving a secondary character a descent / ascent, you are creating a second story within your main story. All the while making one freaking interesting character.
In the antiquity of literature, fallen supporting characters are not widely utilized. In fact, it is difficult to list these characters who switched sides and stayed there for the remainder of a story. So difficult that about a month ago, in preparation for this post, I spent an entire month combing through my library for some victims. Sadly, I lost this list and spent the past 3 hours wracking my brain, trying to recreate it. Now I have pulled poor, tired Michelle into this chasm and we are coming up with blanks. Two literary bibliophiles are at a loss. And we know there are several fallen supporting characters… we are just two very tired girls at the moment.
The only character of this degree that popped into my head from the original list is Gage Creed from Stephen King’s Pet Semetery.
This adorable little character is a sweet and innocent toddler through much of the story. He is a supporting character to his protagonist father, Louis. Gage just adores his daddy, the light of his daddy’s life… until he runs out in front of a speeding dump truck and gets —
Well, for those of you who are anti “children-in-jeopardy”, I will save the details. Let’s just say Gage dies, is buried, comes back to life, and goes on a murderous rampage against his mama. Gage starts out in the light and descends into darkness. King did not subtly hide Gage’s transformation. The reader knows that Gage will reanimate a little skewed, a little darker — given the history of the burial ground. However, the surprising factor was that he came back 100% evil. There was no angelic quality left in this kid. That was the ultimate shock factor that afflicted every reader who touched King’s masterpiece.
As mentioned earlier, the fallen supporting character archetype is not prevalent. The spotlight is usually on the protagonists and antagonists for the 180-degree transition. Supporting characters typically stay linear throughout a story or the slightly lean in the opposite direction only to return to their original state by the end. I think it is time for you as a writer to shake things up a bit. Think outside the box.
If you are writing a novel or multi-volume series, create a fallen supporting character. This character will add a lot of depth to your plot and enhance the story. I can guarantee, if you do this, you will have one memorable supporting character.
By the way, I know you are a good, angelic follower of The Sarcastic Muse. But seriously, come on over to the dark side… we have the best cookies!