The Fallen Support

Good or evil - what will you be? (c) Michael Coghlan (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Good or evil – what will you become? (c) Michael Coghlan (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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.

  1. 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. 
  2. 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!

f you have enjoyed this topic, be sure to check out other posts in the Alternate Reality Archetype Series and the Archetype Series.

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).

If you have enjoyed this topic, be sure to check out other posts in The Archetype Series.