I’m a giant D&D enthusiast. I’ve been playing since I was 15, which makes for 17 years of D&D wonderment. D&D has driven my muse for both writing and artwork for most of my life and it’s all in thanks to not only the game itself, but the people I play it with. Sometimes I approach world building, or story telling, like I would a D&D campaign. Whilst there aren’t players to make things interesting (or totally derail your plans) it’s the same basic concept. An important aspect of planning a campaign, other than setting and the quest, is the fleshed out NPC (non-player character).
Supporting characters can build up or break down a story. As you’re developing people to live in your world and interact with your main characters, keep in mind that the more in depth you go with even those who share a brief glimpse into your main character’s world, the more realistic and believable their interactions will be. Essentially, try role playing. Don’t make a shop keep gruff and angry simply for the sake of entertainment. Why is he gruff and angry? Did his daughter recently run off and elope? What are his motivations for interacting with the main character in this way? I know it might seem a lot of work in the beginning, but for the sake of real world applications it’ll pay off in the end. There is always the risk that it won’t, but I don’t see the harm in putting in a little extra work. That NPC, or supporting character, had an entire life before the scene they’re in. They’ve had hardships, triumphs, bad days, good days, relationships and anything else that makes them a living being. Everything you’ve experienced in your life, other people have too in one way or another.
There’s even a name for this phenomenon: sonder.
In DB:C I have two mothers who are supporting characters. Their interactions with their children are based on their own past and histories. Every character that has a sheet in my stories has every blank on that sheet filled. Including history. I feel this keeps the world rich and three dimensional. I use the same character sheet for my supporting characters as I do for my main characters. Something else to keep in mind: if you create a minor character with a rich background early on in a series, you can always incorporate that character into a more important role later on. In the sequel to DB:C when I needed a minor character to fill a role, instead of making up another I was able to use one from my pool of supporting cast. Don’t get me wrong, new characters are necessary, but for a small task are they really? Why create more names and people for your reader to keep up with when there’s a minor or supporting character right there? Already made and ready and familiar to the readers?
By all means give your supporting and minor characters personalities, but not for the sake of just having it. Why are they kind? Why are they overweight? Why do they lie? It’s almost a study of psychology when you think about it. What are their motivations in life? What would it take to convince someone in that way of thinking to act as they do? This helps with the organic interaction between characters as well as maintaining a believable reaction. How many times have you read something and thought, or heard someone say, I don’t believe they would do that? Supporting characters aren’t just plot devices to fluff up your main character, they’re a huge part of the world around them. Don’t forget that your supporting characters are moving living beings in the background once you’ve left their store. They’re not static. They have lives. They would strive to always improve themselves and their lives just as you yourself would.
Yes, it’s more work. However, to me the best of stories are a lot of work. The best of worlds have things going on in the background that the reader might never see, but those same things affect the world and what’s going on around it. Those background people and events culminate to make up the living breathing world in which your characters and story live. It’s not easy being god of your own world, but boy is it worth it.
Until next time!