5/5 craft book with an easily accessible style that gave my poor frazzled engineering brain a much needed break from academic drivel, extremely useful summaries that made writing his article about 1,000,000x easier, and rock solid advice I will immedietly be adapting into my ever-expanding Storge excel outline.
Step 1: WTF is a Side Character – This chapter explains the kinds of roles a side character can play in a story. Every character is a plot device; they are vehicles we use to tell the story, but side characters have to do their job from the sidelines, which leaves them in a unique position to meet needs we can’t get from our protagonists. Sacha explains the difference between cameos, minor, and major side characters, to help authors understand the amount of attention each deserves.
Step 2: The Web of Connectivity and Theme – The plot, characters, setting, motifs, and metaphors you use in a story all work together to create your theme, regardless of if you know what that theme is. It’s worth building these pieces with intentionality to make sure they thread together as seamlessly as possible. This chapter discusses how side characters can contribute by challenging the protagonist, representing the theme through their choices, or flipping the script as part of their arc. It also talks about believing theme lies vs theme truths, and how you can use these juxtapositions to create complex inter-character dynamics.
Step 3: Flesh and Blood – Why are your side characters here in the first place? Why are they described like that? This chapter unleashes the inner two-year-old to interrogate your cast for their motivations, positive and negative traits, backstories, and the descriptive details that make them interesting and memorable. It also talks about how to pull off flashbacks, surprises, humor to deepen their POVs and hone their voices. But with so much work going into these guys, it’s also important to understand how to anchor them in the reader’s memory so they don’t get lost among a large cast, and how their relationship with the protagonists takes shape. If you need a primer on creating a side character from the ground up, this chapter is a good place to start.
Step 4: Voice of an Angel – Here resides the most useful definition of Author vs Character Voice I have ever found. I always assumed Voice was some nebulous assesment of your writing style that was a pass/fail scenario. You have a unique and interesting voice, or you don’t. It’s impossible to quanitfy and incredibly difficult to intentionally develop if you don’t know what kind of voice you want to have. This chapter breaks down the process in a way that FINALLY makes sense. It talks about how to use a hero lens and split it into action, dialouge, thoughts, and feelings to convey the character beneathe the words.
Step 5: What do they do anyway? – This chapter details the common archetypes that side characters take in a story, such as the sidekick/best friend, mentor, foil, comic relief, etc. Each role covered includes structure tips, mistakes, and both good and bad examples for you to reference when slotting your side characters into these spots.
Step 6: Arc Weaving – This chapter breaks down all the different types of arcs you can give your side characters: Positive, negative, static, change, growth, and fall. It also talks about how to set up the stakes in order to give the story momentum and the reader a reason to keep turning the page. Character development through the story is what makes them so compelling, so knowing now to build arcs that intersect with plot beats is essential to mastering pacing.
Step 7: Killing your Darlings – Following the idea of establishing the stakes, this chapter shows you what can go wrong if they don’t meet their goals. Side characters are unfortunetly, by nature, more expendible than our heros, so it’s important to make these deaths count in order to carry the emotional weight. This chapter goes over intangible deaths – important losses that hurt the character but leave them breathing, and properly putting them 6 feet under. Sacha shares shit and solid reasons to kill characters, how to make them work before, or during, the story, and how to deal with the reactions of the other characters. Following this guide ensures no character’s death will be without consequence.
Step 8: Fight to the Death – This chapter deals with conflict and how to most effectively cause problems for our beloved fictional children. It goes over inner, micro, macro, and story conflict, and how to build tension to the story’s complex to resolve in a satisfying ending.
I highly recommend this book for anyone who wants to take their writing craft to the next level of professionalism, who’s endeavoring upon a 2nd draft, or who’s side characters have hijacked the plot and taken it careening off a cliff. A warning that it’s quite sweary for anyone who minds that, but I think Sacha understands how to write with intention, and the cusses served to illustrate a point, which I appreciate haha. You can find Sacha’s other books on goodreads, listen to her Rebel Author Podcast for more advice from industry experts during their interviews, and find all her other info on her website.
Thanks for reading! Next week I’ll be sharing a Storge excerpt from the perspective of one of my favorite characters, Keenan, who’s a Debilan guard in the Atilan court. If you feel so generously inclined, you can support my writing by leaving me a tip on my Kofi or donating using the secure box below. Until next time, thanks for reading and happy writing! 🙂
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2 thoughts on “Book Review: 8 Steps to a Side Character”
This book sounds like a useful tool – thanks for the review!
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Thanks for reading!