Story creation and planning: Drawing on your support cast

Background of an ancient city with the words: Drawing on your Support CastLonger stories tend to include more characters than shorter stories, creating more complexity, but more opportunities as well.

For a novel there’s a minimum number of characters you’re likely to need. These are:

  • your protagonist
  • your antagonist
  • what’s known as an ‘influence’ or ‘relationship’ or ‘insight’ character. This is the person who ‘helps’ your protagonist see some truth about themselves and opens their way to the story’s resolution.

In a novel, other than your core three characters, you could expect at least a few more ancillary characters, giving you a well of potential conflicts and story-lines. This potential is derived from things like:

  • personalities
  • cultures
  • character histories
  • secrets
  • needs
  • wants
  • desires, etc.

When you’re creating a support cast it helps to think in terms of conflict – what drives characters and what that means to each other and the protagonist.

People holding hands and singing hymns don’t generally make for riveting reading until you mix in some drama, and drama is derived from conflict. If a character doesn’t bring conflict to the story they’re not paying their way, so consider getting rid of them.

For example, in the hand-holding hymn-singing scenario I just mentioned, everything is perfect… zzzz… until one of the singers keels over, foaming at the mouth from an exotic poison.

Interested now?

  • Who did it?
  • Why?
  • (and more importantly) Who’s next?

Consider the same concept in terms of our own cast of characters. Rose:

  • wakes up to discover she’s now a dryad, but thinks that’s just grand and so does everyone she tells (lots of hugs and kisses)
  • wonders off into the woods to be one with the trees
  • has the full support of everyone she knows.
  • The end… Riveting, right? Not.

Line art of a woman with an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other.Alternatively. Rose:

  • must come to terms with what she’s become (internal conflict)
  • needs to save herself and her daughter from the bad guy who wants to use and destroy her (interpersonal conflict)
  • has to save the dryad world (including herself) and possibly the extended magical world from enslavement and annihilation (external conflict and story threat)

Far more dramatic. To do all that though, she might need help.

Rose Thorn’s possible relationships (at the beginning of the story) could include:

  • Family (parents, siblings, daughter)
  • Friends (social)
  • Husband, ex-husband
  • Lover, ex-lovers
  • Work/business associates
  • Police (perhaps one specific officer investigating her case who just won’t let it go?)
  • A medical person who attended to her when she ‘returned’
  • The dryad who made her what she’s becoming
  • Christian Godson himself? (former lover and apparent friend? betrayer?)
  • The people Christian hates. Let’s call them the druids – a very secretive and powerful organisation of long-lived people.

It’s a simple question of asking who from the above list would bring the most conflict to the story on all kinds of levels.

  • How are her friends going to react to her change?
  • Who’s going to support her and who’s going to reject her?
  • Who’s going to turn on or betray her?
  • Who thinks they can take advantage of Rose’s situation?
  • Who already knows about the situation (druids? Christian?)?
  • Is the police officer or medic interested enough to pursue the issue – do they cause complications for Rose or her daughter Hope? Etc.

Line drawings of about 20 people in a circleChristian Godson’s possible relationships:

  • The dryad who ‘made’ Rose
  • His henchmen?
  • The group of long-lived relatives who kicked him out of the club and who he now wants to destroy
  • Friends?
  • Lovers?
  • Business associates?
  • Druids?
  • Corrupt police?
  • People he’s blackmailing?
  • Rose herself?

Questions:

  • Who does Christian know and how will they be involved?
  • Can he blackmail the cop to ‘not’ investigate?
  • Can he buy off the medic (or kill them)?
  • How many henchmen does he have, if any?
  • What has he promised them?
  • Does he have a best friend or a jealous lover?
  • What are his long-lost relatives doing about the situation?
  • Is someone looking to take advantage of him and his longevity?

By asking these sorts of questions story possibilities begin to appear. Who else might be involved? How can we use these characters to provide setbacks for Rose and/or Christian? How can they be used to hurt Rose or frustrate Christian?

What about Rose’s daughter, Hope? Who does she know that could become involved in this story? What could they possibly bring to the situation? How can they influence Hope’s choices?

So ask lots of questions.

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