Film Courage: What do writers get wrong about writing supporting characters?
Naomi Beaty, Writer, Screenwriting Teacher and Consultant: Well I don’t know if they necessarily get it wrong? One thing that could make some supporting characters stronger and screenplays in general strong is connecting the supporting characters to the theme a little bit more. I think sometimes writers throw in the wacky sidekick or a supporting character who is just really colorful and therefore a comedic effect or distraction from the A story.
But you want your screenplay to be a collection of things that are all having the same conversation, right? You want you screenplay to be having one conversation all of the way through and all of those pieces should connect to that conversation. They should all fall under that umbrella (we are just going to mix metaphors).
When you are inventing your supporting characters, if you can think about their relationship with the theme that’s a useful way to invent a supporting character that feels integrated into the fabric of the story and has a function in your story as well because your supporting characters should be pushing your character either toward or away from the lesson that they are trying to learn from this series of events that is the lesson of the theme if your supporting character has a function that relates to that theme. So either they set a good example that leads your character toward that revelation that they are going to have eventually.
Or if they are a cautionary tale, if they don’t learn the lesson of the theme this is what you’ll turn into. Those are just two examples. You can connect your characters to the theme in ways like that and then that will make them feel integrated into that one conversation that your story is having and then also contribute to the growth of your character. Either by pushing them toward the lesson that they need or providing more conflict and causing them to struggle toward that lesson.
Film Courage: Maybe we can move onto another film from the previous example and that is BRIDESMAIDS? If we look at the supporting characters in that, how did this move the main character more toward her goal?
Naomi: Interestingly the collection of bridesmaids in BRIDESMAIDS has two aspects to them that I think is really interesting. On the one hand they each provide a different outlook…(Watch the video interview on Youtube here).
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