How to Build a Cast of Supporting Characters in Your Next Story

- writing tips

A Most IntriguingTemptationBy Kelli A. Wilkins

Hi everyone,

Recently someone asked me if supporting characters were important in a story. My answer was a resounding YES! Supporting (or secondary) characters are sometimes overlooked by writers and can be overshadowed by “larger” (or more interesting) main characters. But, if developed the right way, they enhance a story and make the hero or heroine shine.


Almost every main character needs a secondary character to “play” off of, whether it’s a meddling nosy neighbor (remember Mrs. Kravitz from Bewitched?), a trusty sidekick (Batman’s Robin), or a best friend (Hermione from Harry Potter). Supporting characters help move a story along by giving out information, getting themselves or other characters into (or out of) sticky situations, showing up at the worst (or best) moment, or just by being a sounding board.


One advantage to using supporting characters in a story is that you can have them misbehave, be socially inappropriate, and shake up the story in ways that your well-behaved main characters can’t. For example, in my romance, A Most Intriguing Temptation, Prince Allan was a hedonistic, selfish secondary character. He caused all sorts of trouble, and yet he served an important role in the story.


You can also introduce well-meaning secondary characters to cause conflict with the hero or heroine. Redfeather and Black Elk, in my historical romance, Loving a Wild Stranger, make trouble for Luther and Michelle. They don’t approve of Michelle and try to convince Luther to send her away. Their arrival adds another layer of conflict (both inner and outer) for everyone that needs to be resolved. Readers get to see how Luther handles overcoming this latest difficulty as the novel progresses.


How developed do your supporting characters need to be? They need to be as “real” as any other character, but on a smaller scale. Each one should have a backstory, a history with the main character(s), a physical description, and a personality. (Preferably one that stands out or contrasts the protagonist.)


Don’t just “drop” a character into a story and call him the “quirky” neighbor—flesh him out and let him come alive. Make sure the reader knows why he’s important to the story, even if he just has a small role.


If you’re working on a story now, take some time out and identify the supporting characters. You should be able to answer these questions for each secondary character:


* What is their relationship to the main characters?

* Do you know their backstory, history, and are they fleshed out enough with description and details?

* What are their roles in the story?

* Why are they important to the plot?

* If you removed them, would the story still make sense?


(If they’re not there for a reason, either give them one, or see if your story works just as well without them.)


One note of caution: watch out for secondary characters who try to take over the story. Sometimes they become “too big” to remain supporting players and they could detract from the main characters in your story. If this happens, scale them back a little.


And if you’ve created a fantastic secondary character who absolutely demands time on the page, save up some of his adventures and let him run free in his own story. (When I was writing A Deceptive Match, I knew Vin’s best friend Everett needed his own book. Now he has one, A Secret Match.)


So, how many secondary characters should be in a story? Can you have too many?

That depends on what you’re writing. I’d say a full-length novel needs no more than three secondary characters. If you add too many characters, readers may get confused, or the plot could become bogged down. Supporting characters don’t have to be on every page of a book. They can stay in the background for parts of the novel and come and go as the story dictates. (If you’re writing a short story or a novella, you may only need one supporting character.)


Secondary characters are a great way to enhance your writing, create unusual personalities, and, if, done right, they can jump off the page and remain with readers long after they’ve finished your story!


If you’d like more writing tips and advice, check out my writing guide, You Can Write—Really! A Beginner’s Guide to Writing Fiction. Read more about it here:


My historical romance, Redemption from a Dark Past is filled with interesting and very unusual secondary characters. Here’s the book description:



Redemption from a Dark Past


Lord Sebestyen Adrik has an unsavory reputation as a madman, murderer… and worse. Lonely andRedemption from a dark past by kelli wilkins searching for love, he seeks the companionship of local young women, hoping one of them will ease his torment and bring him the happiness he longs for. Katarina is his last chance—but will she fear him like all the others? Or is she the one who can lift his curse?


Desperate to avoid a forced marriage, Katarina agrees to become Lord Adrik’s latest companion, despite the rumors she has heard about him. She discovers the “Dark Lord’s” secret past and realizes he’s not the monster everyone thinks he is. As their love blossoms, she renews his passion for life—yet they cannot escape the ghosts of the past.


When a meeting of the nobility goes horribly wrong, Sebestyen’s world unravels, and his enemies plot to destroy him. As all seems lost, a mysterious stranger arrives at the castle. Sebestyen must decide if he is a friend or a foe…and if he can find redemption in his love for Katarina, or lose her and everything else that he holds dear.


Order Redemption from a Dark Past here:


Link to all other platforms:

Read reviews on my site:


Happy Reading (and writing)!

Kelli A. Wilkins


Kelli A. Wilkins is an award-winning author who has published more than 100 short stories, 20 romance novels, 6 non-fiction books, and 2 online writing courses. Her romances span many genres and heat levels, and she’s also been known to scare readers with her horror stories.


In January 2020, Kelli published Love, Lies & Redemption, a western romance set in 1877 Nebraska. This novel blends a sensual love story with mystery and danger.


She released Romance Every Weekend: 104 Fun Ways to Express Your Love, a non-fiction guide to romance in November 2019. The book features 104 fun and easy ways you can express your love to that special someone in your life. Perfect for men or women, it focuses on tender, everyday gestures that let your partner know how much you love him or her.


Kelli published Extraterrestrial Encounters: A Collection of 18 Sci-fi Stories, in August 2019. If you like horror fiction, don’t miss her disturbing novella, Nightmare in the North.


Earlier in 2019 she released The Viking’s Witch, a paranormal/historical romance, and

Dangerous Indenture, a historical mystery romance set in Colonial Pennsylvania.


Kelli has authored two online writing courses: Fiction Basics: Finding Ideas and Fiction Writing for Beginners. These courses are perfect for anyone who wants to learn how to write. Visit: for more details.


Kelli posts on her Facebook author page: and Twitter:


Visit her website/blog to learn more about all of her writings.

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