Another Column at MyShelf.Com

Between the pages, Past
A Mystery Column
By Dennis Collins

The supporting cast

In every mystery novel there is one main character, one hero. That person is called the protagonist and receives all of the glory at the end. But how does the author define this hero and where does this character get his or her courage and virtue?

It’s been said that we’re all products of our environment and I guess that would have to include the people who surround us. If the hero has a sidekick or a buddy, that person must be able to compliment the main character. So much thought has to go into creating that personality. Qualities like loyalty and intelligence in their associates actually tend to strengthen the main character. Think about how Ward Bond always made John Wayne appear stronger.

On the other side of the coin a formidable adversary or really evil bad guy serves to build up the hero as well. If the villain is a wimp, it would look bad if the protagonist were to beat him into a bloody pulp. But if he’s built like a caveman, has superior weapons, and fights dirty… well now you’re talkin’.

Every character in the story has to be crafted to bolster the image of the leading man or lady. Waiters in restaurants need to treat them with respect and cab drivers must be pleased with their tip. Nobody can be allowed to tarnish the spotlight that shines on the main character.
When I begin to write a new book, I always weigh the contribution of each supporting character.

Sometimes a minor player makes a significant addition and has their status elevated as the story moves along. I enjoy developing my contributing characters but I have to be careful that they don’t overshadow the hero.

In the end, the more powerful supporting characters you can build into your story, the stronger your protagonist will be. Always remember that the cast is very important.

2012 Past Columns