Character Development can take many forms and often rely on far more than just the main characters of the story. The world and, more importantly, the characters that inhabit that world affect not only the main characters’ development but the reader’s engagement to the story. Sometimes the protagonist can be an interesting and endearing character but what makes the story compelling is how they interact and support the other characters. It’s difficult as it relies heavily on making dynamic and complex relationships between different personalities which relies on understanding how people interact under certain circumstances. The supporting cast of characters is vital to making an engaging character-driven story that really stays with the reader at the end of the day.
A story where the side characters truly shine and carry the story is often in stories where the protagonists are almost inconsequential in the story within that book, movie, episode, etc. For instance, in the Kane Chronicles the fate of the Kane siblings is already spoiled to the reader from the very beginning of the first two books (haven’t read the third yet so I can’t comment on that) so it’s hard to be invested in their fate. But the supporting cast of characters don’t have obvious conclusions to their stories and make for far more engaging storylines. The reader doesn’t know what happens to them by the end and their own independent plotlines and development are quite engaging and make them far more endearing. The reader is compelled to continue the story to know more about them and how they’ll end up.
But sometimes the protagonist of the story starts off strong but becomes rather bland and boring, allowing for the supporting cast to shine more as the stars of the story. A good example of this is the Magnus Chase series as the side characters in that story are far more interesting and well developed than Magnus himself. The weird thing about it was that it wasn’t actually a bad thing. If the story had focused on Magnus as a character, it would’ve likely gone through a basic generic hero’s journey whereas what we got was more compelling. Hearthstone will probably be one of my favorite characters of all time because of how carefully crafted his story was. The entire supporting cast ended up being surprisingly endearing and wonderful because Magnus became a vessel of exploration of these characters rather than the star of the show. While the main plot is rather forgettable, the side stories focused on the supporting characters really leave a lasting impression whenever I think of this series.
There’s also an important dynamic, and probably the best dynamic, where the protagonist and the side characters develop together to become far more endearing and well developed as the story progresses. This is incredibly difficult to do as it requires meticulous planning and character development that is carefully handled. Most stories will focus on one or the other as it’s incredibly difficult to manage so many characters with so much depth. The best example I can think of for this level of development is Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood. There’s such a large cast of incredibly well developed and unique characters that not only grow as the series does but also bring ideological challenges for the protagonists Ed and Al. Almost everyone grows and changes in ways that feel appropriate to their storylines and support the growth of Ed and Al in both positive and negative ways. It’s absolutely amazing.
Creating a compelling and interesting cast of supporting characters is incredibly difficult for any writer as it’s hard not to just focus solely on the protagonists or the main characters. Typically the main characters are the stars of the story and it’s often safer to make sure that they’re interesting and compelling. But the best way to do that is to have that strong cast of characters that challenge and help to develop the main characters. It’s the best way to create compelling character drama and endearing moments for both the main characters and the side characters and the reader by the end of the story.