5 Step Recipe To Create Your Protagonist's Inner Circle

Creating A Protagonists Inner Circle

Who’s in your inner circle? You know, that group of friends that you can count on one hand. The ones you would pick up in the middle of the night, or who would hold back your hair whilst you throw up after a hard night out…?

What do you think of when you think of those friends? More importantly what single word would you use to describe them? If you were to write them into your novel what would their archetype be? Let me know in the comments below.

As I write scenes with supporting characters, I’ve come to realise just how important they are. I didn’t give much consideration to what my protagonist needed in her inner circle before I started writing, and as a result, I had some missing elements and some elements that were there and didn’t need to be.

What happened? Some of the missing elements found themselves drawn into one particular character. This character was never meant to be anything more than a bit part. But he has quietly crept into the forefront of my story without me realising, and now is a major player. Which is going to result in major rewrites… sigh. You’d think if you created them they would at least do what you say…

This is where I battle with the plotter / pantser continuum, I want to stop what I am doing and plan, plan, plan, until I know exactly what my characters should be doing. But here’s the thing, my characters don’t listen to me anyway! So I will continue on in my strange pantser way and settle my inner plotter by thinking about this before starting my second draft.

Recipe For A Protagonists Inner Circle 

1. Choose Archetypes Carefully

 When I realised I had a problem I started thinking about character archetypes. Every character is different and will have a different selection of traits and behaviours and therefore, need a different set of things from their inner circle. But there are only so many archetypes or types of character. Ask yourself, what’s my characters arc? They should change and go on a journey throughout your story. As a basic example, if they start out as an unhelpful person then they should end up helpful by the time the story finishes. Their inner circle should be structured to either help or hinder that change. I intend on choosing a balanced mix of archetypal characters for my protagonists circle that will eventually help her get to the end of the book and her ‘changed state’ but not without pushing her to her limits first.

What’s an archetype? Here’s some examples:

  • The love interest
  • The friend
  • The conflict
  • The mentor
  • The Hero and or (usually but not always the protagonist)
  • The Leader (usually but not always the protagonist)
  • The supporter / friend who would fight to the death for you
  • The carer/parent
  • The resourceful one (who can find that thing you need in the nick of time)
  • The enemy

2. Add Specific Traits

Of course there are more specific things you may need in an inner circle which either provide support to your protagonist, incite action or help solve a problem, but these can be built in through traits, for example: sporty/physically strong, the researcher/clever one, popular, dramatic, aggressive/angry etc. If your character is unhelpful, what do they need to become helpful? A kind friend? Or a nasty enemy to be unhelpful to them to give them a taste of their own medicine?

3. A Dash of Major Minor Characters

Most of the inner circle will comprise main or secondary characters. These characters need almost as much attention as your main character. They need enough history and depth to give the richness needed for an interesting character but also to make the behaviours needed to influence your protagonist seem authentic.

4. Add A Sprinkling of Minor Minor Characters

Not all of your characters inner circle will be Major Minor characters. Some will be Minor Minor. What do I mean? Take the classic archetype of a mentor. Mentors are not meant to be on every page of a story. They flit in and out only occasionally entering the pages to give a useful insight or make a thought provoking statement to prod your protagonist in the right direction. But not appearing on lots of pages means there’s not a lot of space to make them memorable.

Minor Minor characters are only briefly in stories, so make them larger than life in order to have an impact. Give them a distinctive characteristics, one or two would do.

Maybe your mentor has a moustache that wiggles, or she constantly bites her nails? Maybe he’s a gossip or liar.

5. Drain Off The Redundant Characters 

If your minor minor – or major minor for that matter – characters only appear once, or seem completely unrelated or out of place. If you struggle to find things for them to do in each scene, and they just say stuff for the sake of it… DRAIN THEM OFF. You don’t need them. It will seem more peculiar for a random character to come in and say ‘ta da’ with the answer than it will for a member of the inner circle to have worked out a problem over time.

I’ve done this with two characters. They were always there – but without a role to play, just characters taking up space and words without any purpose, so I killed those babies off cut them out and drained them away! Your protagonists inner circle has to be sharp and purposeful, so if your supporting players seem redundant just get rid of them.

Bake for approximately 100,000 words and voila… you have an inner circle.

46 comments

      1. I have a novel I’ve just started but realised I need to fill in my own knowledge of the characters’ backgrounds more so that’s my focus for today. I have the plot – just need the words!

          1. Dare I say Chicklit? Or at least that’s what I’m attempting but I seem to lack the lightness of touch needed and also the literary quality for a serious contemporary work so it falls short on both counts unfortunately! It’s my first attempt though so I’ll have a go! What about you?

          2. Don’t sell yourself short. These things need dozens of edits anyway. No one writes the bestseller on their first draft.

            I’m 78.5k into a YA fantasy/dystopian novel. Same genre as hunger games and divergent. Almost at the end of my first draft which… Is a shambles! It won’t be readable to others for at least another two drafts the first 50K needs a total redraft! Sigh.

            I used to love chick lit – Jane green was always my fave 😋

  1. Well good luck with it all. I’ll look forward to reading it and blogging all about it! (I have had 15 non-fiction teacher resource books published through Hodder so I know I can string a sentence together… Fiction is a wholly different game!)

      1. I think they are all subsumed into online learning now as the Government have changed the syllabus, but it was KS3 English and some GSCE books. Amazon still have a Y9 link http://www.amazon.co.uk/Interactive-English-Year-Developing-Pupils/dp/0340948949/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1436170501&sr=8-4&keywords=interactive+english also did some starter stuff for Y7-9 (see https://www.hoddereducation.co.uk/Product?Product=9780340938843) and their Hodder Literature resources (though I don’t count them as they were online materials – http://www.hodderliterature.co.uk/ Still, it’s nice to see your name on a book or website!

        1. Ahh yes this is ringing a bell now. I seem to recall knowing it was education related well MASSIVE congrats what an epic achievement. Can’t wait to read your chick lit now 🙂

  2. Supporting characters do need a bit of care – without them, the main character having some sort of friends and the plot just doesn’t seem like real life. (But like one of those high school clique “mean girls”, the writer may have to tell a few hanger-oners to hit the road)

  3. Glad your characters are troublesome and won’t behave; to me that is the sign of characters with depth, with minds of their own. I’m with you on subverting the support acts. In Dead Flies one character – a fellow waiter and student Sven – starts as a supercilious know all arsehole but gradually you wonder if in fact that is how Harry sees him because he views him as a rival for the girl Harry fancies. I loved chipping and chiselling Sven until he was one of my favourite characters. So much so that I pretty much immediately kill him off in book two (not a spoiler – the book will be called The Last Will and Testament of Sven Andersen!)

    1. Hahahahaha immediately killed him off. I have to read your book next I’m just so painfully slow at the moment only read like two books this year. A travesty and disgrace in my eyes.

      Hmm yeah I agree on it meaningf they are well developed but possibly more because I’m just hoping that’s what it means rather than them being totally underdeveloped and inconsistent!! Lol

  4. Excellent post. We focus so much on developing great main characters that we often overlook the important role of the inner circle. By the way, I love/hate it when secondary characters decide they want to be main characters. It creates work, but the surprise is fun. Thinking in terms of archetypes is helpful, and #5 is key. I sometimes combine a few of the minor minors into one role as a way to tighten and give that one character more involvement.

    1. Thank you so much 😊😊

      Haha I do too. I was really annoyed when it happened at first and then I realised he knew better than me anyway! So shut my mouth and took it for the team!!!!!!!

      That’s a good point actually about combining Minor minors I’ll have to remember that when I come to edit thank you 😊

      1. I had a minor character who halfway through the book decided he wanted to be THE MAIN CHARACTER. Yeesh. That required a massive rewrite! Fortunately he was right and the book was much better.

    2. oh god really? To be fair, this minor character of mine was meant to be a minor minor – and is now the main love interest :s – massive rewrite needed my end too! sigh.

  5. Great advice Sacha and put in such a clear and at times humorous format. So often we hear about the story/plot arc but I like your idea of the character arc. This already has my mind buzzing and want to see how it pans out against the characters in my first draft. Maybe I’ll have to kill one or two of my ‘babies’ – but it’s difficult! Good luck on your second draft.

    1. Hi Annika – thanks so much for taking the time to read this post 🙂 I am so glad that you found it useful – makes my day to hear that 😀 – I completely agree – it is really difficult to kill our babies! I wish you all the luck 🙂

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