Protagonists make up and drive the story, antagonists are often the source of that drive. They are the ones the audience is to care about, for it is their tale that’s being told. But what about the unsung heroes of the same story?
Think of one story without supporting characters. Yeah; there aren’t any. There’s even an entire category dedicated to them at awards ceremonies celebrating films. I’ve found that often those that I love most out of the things I watch or read are not members of the principal cast, but those that support the main players.
Eum-Ja in Faith.
Eum-Ja actually works for the antagonist of the drama. He does his thing, does as he’s told, and is very multi-layered behind his soft-spoken beauty. I seriously spent the entire drama waiting for him to switch sides and still think he should’ve.
Sir Leon in Merlin
Yes, Leon gets a big picture because I like this one. He’s one of the Knights of the Round Table in the TV series following Merlin and King Arthur, and while in the beginning he’s rather a bystander, a bit part to give some good moments to our heroes, his nobility and honor do not fail to shine through. And I agree with the fandom in that he must be immortal. No other way to explain it.
Anton in Once Upon a Time
Anton the Giant is a sweetheart. While initially wary of humans, he is very loving as well as curious of the cultures and practices of others. It’s because of him that the magic bean once again grows, and it’s very satisfying and happy to see him settle in among the residents of Storybrooke, really making a home there.
Honorable mentions: Dromio and Dromio from Shakespeare’s a Comedy of Errors. Read the play for them.
Now there are many different supporting characters. Everyone around you could be considered a supporting character in the story of your life. There are a lot, huh? It could be that person who smiled at you when you were fifteen. It could be your grouchy neighbor with the constantly-barking dog. They touch and change your life in some way, enriching the experience and giving you the opportunity to see the world in a new light.
Stories are very much the same way. Every supporting character should touch and change your principal cast or the story itself in some way. Let me give you some examples from my Robin Hood/King Arthur WIP:
The Lady Eliza
Eliza is a very unlikeable character. She’s sixteen and married to a noble, viewing herself above everyone she comes in contact with, which drives Marian insane. She’s a complete priss and unlike the picture, would never handle a weapon, perferring to laze about and complain. She irritates Marian (and Morgan and even Magar) to no end, and Marian spends her days trying to avoid her while still pretending to help her under Magar’s orders. She is a good source of information if Marian pushes and manipulates hard enough, seeing as her husband doesn’t think her intelligent enough to keep his secrets from her delicate ears. So when some of the nobles band together to bring down the king for their own gain, Eliza is in on it and Marian uses that to her advantage.
Much more trusting and friendly than his father and friends, Guinson is crucial in the moment when Marian had been captured by his comrades. It’s thanks to him that she’s allowed to go free, and when he’s taken prisoner, she acts to save him, turning her whole life around as well as earning the trust of the rugged outlaws.
Arthur is extremely close to his foster-brother Kay, despite the huge differences in their personalities. While Kay is a huge brat and prone to temper tantrums, he would die for his little brother and king. He is, in many ways, Arthur’s support. If Kay thinks what he’s doing is good, then Arthur is assured that it is. If Kay disagrees, Arthur might just do it anyway, but his brother’s opinion is always carefully considered at the very least.
Again, there are as many different kinds of supporting characters as there are people. They should also get their time in the spotlight of your mind, because even if your principal cast is well-built, fleshed out and genuine, your story will fall flat unless the supporting characters are as real as their protagonist counterparts. They support the characters. They support the story. And oftentimes, they win our hearts.