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Side Characters

Ozoneocean at 12:00AM, May 26, 2016

*Colin and Betty from Pinky TA

When you write a big long story that goes over many chapters and arcs, things tend to evolve, grow and expand quite a bit outside of what you originally envisaged. What I'm talking about here are side characters- These are people that may have started life as sidekicks, or reflection characters (as in Bane's newspost from last Thursday), or just background colour, but later in your writing you feel (or they do), that they need a voice of their own.

It can be such a rewarding and interesting thing to have a character, who grew organically through your story, grow up and become a main character in their own right. Often their role wasn't planned from the start like it was with the main cast, protagonists and antagonists etc; they we just background, or served the needs of a particular arc, or you thought it would be cool to try something new so you threw them in as an experimental side character… Down the road when your story has becomes more complex you will often need more people to carry the load, and where else can you mine them from if not side characters?

The audience has some knowledge of these people, having seen them form in earlier pages, so their promotion to the main stage seems completely natural and appropriate, not jarring like it can be with a new character. In fact it's really interesting to learn more about them, it lends more colour and meat to your comic world so there's an added benefit. It also means you don't have to spend a lot of effort introducing them, you can use elements from their previous appearances in your story to inform their current dialogue and through that you can expand upon you story by giving differing viewpoints of past events.

An example from my own comic is Colin and Betty, who made their appearance as side characters in chapter 6 of Pinky TA. In chapter 8 they've come to the fore to man the other line of the story alongside Pinky. They don't have MUCH character, because I'm not a great writer and I'm a slow comic artist to boot, but it was really useful to be able to draw them from an earlier chapter for their roles here- I needed workers who would have their own opinions and history with Pinky, but would be subservient to her… these two fit the bill perfectly.
Another example I can readily think of is Tredd from Putrid Meat. He began as a means for Bones to get a tank, like Jet Girl in the movie version of Tank Girl, but has since become a VERY main character in his own right, shouldering more of the story than Bones in the later part of the comic.
Another perfect example of this is the comic Charby the Vampirate. Amy is always adding new people to her scenes for whatever reason and then giving them entire story arcs just because, one after another! This has given her a gigantic cast with many entangled storylines, but it's meant there's a hell of a lot of variation and different voices in her comics.

This is often done in long running TV series: it helps to break things up and takes the pressure off of the actors playing the lead roles, as well as broadening the universe of the show a little for the audience. The Star Trek franchise of TV series and even the Venture Brothers did this, famously expanding the role of minor henchman character “Twenty Six” to that of a main story-leading character in the series. Mainstream comics famously do this as a way of trying out new things to catch reader interest and give their writers and artists a chance to put their own stamp on the work without the risk of changing more established character. This was also the way Raymond E Fiest would come up with new leads for his storylines in his Riftwar Saga series.

So next time you want to add a new perspective to your story, carry things in a new direction, try doing a story with multiple storylines, or just feel like adding a new voice to the cast, consider promoting a side character instead of bringing in someone totally new. They can bring a lot of hidden benefits with them to your work and have a much lower bar for audience acceptance.

-Ozoneocean writing instead of Banes today :)



Ozoneocean at 9:52PM, May 26, 2016

Excelent! Be sure to include pics!

Amelius at 9:02PM, May 26, 2016

Duly noted! I'll try to restrain myself the best I can, haha! (^∀^)

Ozoneocean at 8:48PM, May 26, 2016

Amelius, if you do the article please PQ it to me or email it to ozoneocean at gmail dot com. I think about two and a half times as long as this one is probably about the maximum length you should do. :D

Amelius at 7:58PM, May 26, 2016

@Ozone: Sweeeet, I'd love to actually, haha! I have a heck of a lot to say about it, so yeah if I'm welcome to I just might ramble on about it! (◕ ᵕ ◕) No worries, I know you didn't mean any insult! I admit I might take it a little harder than I should, though. @usedbooks :OHHH I know that pain so well! Being full of secret knowledge and just squirming because the art doesn't get produced nearly as quickly as the scripting and planning! It's torment!

Ozoneocean at 6:18PM, May 26, 2016

Amelius- I didn't mean to misrepresent you :) I'd be happy to have you make your own news post about your character roster though and your methods, it sounds really complex and interesting, I'm sure a lot of people would like to know about the method behind such a huge and long running comic with such a big cast ^_^

Banes at 5:22PM, May 26, 2016

Very cool subject and post! I have some side characters who were planted early on, too. Some have appeared again after their early cameos (Crazy Annie and Rooster), while some have just been snuck in there on billboards or crowd scenes, their larger roles still to come! Surely few to none of the readers will notice those early seeds, but it's a lot of fun to do!

usedbooks at 4:09PM, May 26, 2016

I also have some favorite "side characters" (likable, despicable, and neutral) that have such a presence they threaten to upstage the main cast and hijack the story. They tend to appear less frequently. They are characters I like so much that they would have a spinoff if I had infinite time, energy, and talent. I have a pair that I write as basically crossovers from their own nonexistent series. One of my main character's long-deceased mother was kind of a badass secret agent, so she has a nonexistent prequel too.

usedbooks at 4:04PM, May 26, 2016

I feel you, Amelius. My cast grows too. I tend to introduce a character or two every other arc, but an arc takes a couple years to get through. I'm always afraid I'll get accused of randomly "making people up" just for the heck of it. Sometimes, I share my concept sketches from 5+ years previous just to say "See? This guy already existed in the universe of my mind WAAAY back forever ago."

Amelius at 2:16PM, May 26, 2016

(sorry if I see oversensitive about that, I just put a lot of thought and effort into these areas and don't want people to have the impression I slapdash add characters in with no regard to plot importance or story!I realize no insult was intended, I'm just attempting to explain myself, haha)

Amelius at 1:18PM, May 26, 2016

@ozone: Ah, now that my head isn't throbbing with migraine I wanted to add! I feel sort of like my process is sort of... ah, misrepresented here? I don't just add new characters for whatever reason then drop what I'm doing to follow them just because. I have no main characters, just a rotation of ensemble casts from 3 different perspectives, Central (the Cabin) Secondary (The Forest) and Tertiary (The City/humans/hunters). I also believe that not everything that moves the plot forward needs to be micromanaged by "main" characters! I've always been inspired by things with large casts: Tiny Toons, Animaniacs, early Simpsons... the difference is mine has an ongoing narrative. Actually, George RR Martin does what I'm going for, though he kills his characters off a lot faster!

rmccool at 6:58AM, May 26, 2016

some characters are like cats( some are cats) they just show up.. and say I'm here. I'm yours now and move in.. and take over the house..

Bruno Harm at 6:40AM, May 26, 2016

I have a girl named Sidney that has a bit part in the current Bruno Harm adventure, and I'm working on developing her character into something more for the future. I think that authors experience their characters more than they can ever put on paper (or screen) and sometimes A character will just come alive and inspire a writer. It's something you can't ignore. But I also think you have to sit on it a minute and really think about the how's and why's before you start slapping extra people into the works.

bravo1102 at 5:34AM, May 26, 2016

You can look at story telling as an organic process. Some seeds that were planted in passing can end up growing and taking over the yard. Aura and Jenny from Tales of SIG started out as secondary characters in Battle of the Robofemoids. As that story developed I needed a way to conclude it so Jenny's part grew and grew. When that comic was done, I realized I had a new lead character on my hands so I came up with Tales of SIG. Aura was just supposed to be the Aordian pilot. A spear-carrier. Then Jenny's side-kick but by the end of first arc of Tales of SIG she was a lead in her own right. And now Nakkar threatens to do it that herself.

Ozoneocean at 4:15AM, May 26, 2016

Good to know your true process Amy :) -if you DO need a new main character though, harvesting them from existing side characters can be a good way to go about it.

Gunwallace at 2:39AM, May 26, 2016

These are the characters who really know they've made it when they get a spin-off. Mork (calling Orson). Daria. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Laverne and Shirley. Diddy Kong. Those guys made the big time.

Amelius at 1:29AM, May 26, 2016

Haha, that makes me sound like a crazy cat-lady of characters! I would advise writers not to just introduce characters willy-nilly just to fill out the roster, despite the number of characters I have in my comic, by the time they appear they've been developed behind the scenes for years! It should fit the needs of the story too, a small world or small story can suffice with a small cast because there's nothing much to explore or have a different perspective on. I'd also say that there's potential when adding new characters to derail the narrative too much, so they should fit into the story naturally. Every new character I introduce has something to add to the events that are building up. If a character feels like they just got plopped in there because the author "just had an idea" it can come off as really sloppy!

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