Creating a supporting character is like baking. The measurements have to be perfect. You need just the right amount of unique personality coupled with plot relevance. Being off by just a teaspoon can leave you with a character too dynamic or too weak to perform their duties correctly. I added just a touch too much yeast to one of the supporting characters in my novel. Her original purpose was to lay the foundation for my protagonist’s flaw of being too meek. I created her with a loud and over-the-top personality on purpose but somewhere in the writing process, this intriguing character began to overshadow the lead.
I swear I heard my main character whine, “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia” last night while I was writing a scene. The supporting character kept ending up in the spotlight and my protagonist stayed in her shadow, the background singer to her star power. I ended my writing session after getting so frustrated with the imbalance and dragged the ham off the stage while she screamed, “You love me, you really love me!”
How can this problem be remedied? One could argue that an imbalanced supporting character is evidence of a deficiency in your main character and in this situation I’m inclined to agree. It’s important for the main character to have flaws. Flaws create room for growth and they also create those realistic connections with the reader to make the character endearing. The trouble with my character started when I wrote her flaw just a touch too exaggerated.
While going over my work in the clarity of sunlight this morning, I decided not to change my attention-hungry supporting character at all. I’m leaving her the same to set a standard. I am, however, going to give a little tough love to my main character. By leaving the supporting character unchanged, I’m creating another obstacle for the protagonist to conquer. If I lowered the bar for her, the victory at the end would be watered down and nobody wants that. The supporting character is the spark I’m going to use to jumpstart the evolution of the main character.
Just because you create them, doesn’t mean you will always be able to control them. Characters are funny that way. Once you develop them from inside out, you can only watch their behavior as they navigate the obstacles and predicaments you conjure up for them. Bending the story around their shortcomings will only make them appear weak and lessen the impact of any conflicts they face. It’s better to let them struggle. They will thank you for it. Well, no your characters won’t thank you for it but your readers certainly will.