Episode 34: Archetypes for Supporting Characters

by Gabriela Pereira
published in Podcast

Hello and thank you for tuning in! Today we’re going to talk about 5 common supporting character archetypes. But first, I want to remind you to sign up for the DIY MFA email list, so you can receive my mostly weekly updates as well as all the wonderful tips and information I have to share with you.

Before we begin, here’s a quick note about supporting characters.

They are not secondary characters. They are not side characters. Supporting characters do just what it says in their name: they support the development of the protagonist and of the plot. Any character who is not the protagonist exists in this particular story to support the journey of the main character.

This is not to say that your supporting characters can’t be fleshed out and interesting. They all have backstories and motivations. And no character is ever purely good or evil; there are always shades of grey. Your supporting cast needs to be as developed and interesting as your protagonist.

After all, no character wakes up in the morning and thinks, “Gee, I think I’ll be a side character in someone else’s story today.” Every character is the protagonist of his own life. It just so happens that this particular story happens to belong to the protagonist so all other characters fall into a supporting role.

So, eradicate the terms “side character” and “secondary character” from your vocabulary and treat your supporting cast like literary gold.

Are we on the same page? Awesome.

Now, let’s get started.

And now let’s talk about the 5 supporting character archetypes. Not all of these characters will appear in every story you write, and there are many more than just these 5 archetypes I’ll mention here. I just happen to think these are the 5 most essential ones.

The Villain

Villains are awesome. Villains give us someone we love to hate and make us root for the protagonist to win even harder. It’s important to note that not every antagonist in a story is a villain. The antagonist can be a powerful storm, a network of computers, or dinosaurs going on a rampage. Not every story has, or needs, a villain. When you have an amorphous non-human antagonist, a day-to-day villain can give that antagonist a face.

The BFF/Sidekick

The BFF is the character who is always at the side of the protagonist, always egging him on, pushing him forward. She has qualities that the protagonist lacks, but that equally he needs to accomplish his goal.

The Love Interest

There are a so many different types of love interest you can include in your story! A few examples:

  • The Boy Next Door (or Girl Next Door)
  • Forbidden Love (Star-crossed Lovers)
  • The Love-Hate Relationship

It’s important to note that, except in the Romance genre, the love story usually is secondary to the plot. It can help support the main plot, but in most cases it’s not central to the story.

The Mentor

The Mentor can be a very useful tool to convey information to the reader by teaching the protagonist somthing. However, a major pitfall of the mentor character is that she can info-dump, explaining everything that the protagonist (or the reader) is confused about in one fell swoop instead of revealing it in the course of the plot.

The Fool

The only purpose of the Fool (but what an important purpose) is to say the things that the protagonist doesn’t want to hear but really needs to know. The Fool dates back to the days of Shakespeare (though I would argue that you see elements of the Fool in the plays of Ancient Greece). This also happens to be my favorite supporting character archetype and can be a lot of fun to write.

Take-Home Message: All characters–including your supporting cast–need to have depth and dimension.

No character wakes up and says:
“Gee, I think I’ll be a side character in someone else’s story today.”
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For more information on character archetypes, you can check out DIY MFA Radio Episode 5 where I talk about the two main archetypes for protagonists. Thanks for listening! If you think of other essential supporting character archetypes, make sure to leave a comment and share it with the DIY MFA community.

Link to Episode 34

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Until next week, keep writing and keep being awesome.


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