Writing Tips

Why Your Protagonist Needs Friends!

Look, everybody needs a friend. As tempting as it may be to make your protagonist travel solo with no one to drag them down the chances are you’ll need someone to act as a secondary character for you (unless you’re brave enough to be rewriting Cast Away then disregard this immediately). 

Character archetypes provide us with unlimited potential for dialogue, means of explaining the plot and of course important character development for your protagonist. How your protagonist interacts with your secondary character is completely up to you and the possibilities are endless.

The purpose of the secondary characters is often to fulfil a specific need; through dialogue and action the protagonist will impart needed information to the secondary character to help the audience understand what is happening. This is known as exposition. Consider the role of the Doctor’s assistant in Doctor Who; the assistant, a novice to travelling across time and space, often asks the questions we, the audience, need the answers to. It allows the writer to impart information in a way that feels natural and authentic.

In addition to this the secondary character  (or ally) serves another important purpose for the readers which is of course character development. Through actions and words we can see how the protagonist grows and evolves over a period time by their behaviour displayed to the ally. In She’s All That the character Zachary undergoes a massive transformation from a popular jock with a over indulged sense of entitlement to a kinder, humbled guy trying to woo back Laney with genuine affection.

Across books, films and television series we all recognise the loveable stereotypes of the fool, the mentor, the love interest, the guardian angel or damsel in distress but how do you implement these in your own manuscript? These archetypes can double up in to one character so don’t worry about each utilising each and every one individually. For example, if you’re writing a romance comedy your protagonist’s ally (primarily the fool) can impart wisdom at a time of crisis, thus earning him the role of mentor too.

In the case of trucker girl we could introduce an ally in the form of a male of similar age who becomes her friend after she gives him a ride to the nearest outpost. As a secondary character he plays the role of the mentor, guardian angel and love interest. His personality traits reflect those of trucker girl; where she is hot headed and fearless, he is logical and cautious, where trucker girl is resourceful her ally is dependant on her for supplies, though he is not altogether helpless. He has a wicked smart brain and is able to put the pieces of the puzzle together to help locate trucker girl’s missing brother. His primary role however is to drip feed exposition, similarly to the role of the Doctor’s assistant explained before. As a newcomer in to trucker girl’s life he gets to ask the questions that we cannot.

In conclusion, give your protagonist someone to kid around with; it will be less lonely for them and your readers will thank you for it! TTYL.

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