Obviously, the main character of a story drives the story, but the supporting characters are equally (sometimes more) important. This aspect of the story has trickled into every ELA reading lesson/mini-lesson that I have taught this school year (even when I don’t mean for it to trickle in). Over the past few weeks, this has been on my mind every time that I sit down to write my own stories, so after school on Friday, I grabbed all of my reading lessons and reviewed them as a writer (not a teacher).
I have always found that when the students are feeling connected to the supporting characters they enjoy the story. For example, we are currently reading Glory Be, and the students can make connections to the main character, but every discussion goes back to Jesslyn (older sister), Frankie (best friend), Laura (new friend), or Emma (maid). One of my favorite character/story plot activities is to ask the students: What would the main character be like without one of the supporting characters (example from yesterday – Emma)? The students will make a list (usually long if the characters are strong) of the good and bad things that the main character would (or wouldn’t) have if the supporting character were not in the story.
So, I went back into my own stories. I asked myself questions: Are my supporting characters strong enough? Does my main character truly need every character in the story? Do the supporting characters that make only short appearances in my story actually have a big impact on my main character (I was thinking about a character like Emma in Glory Be)? Is my main character moved through the story by the supporting characters?
I found that I have work to do.:) But, I was surprised to find that some of my supporting characters are solid. At the end of the school year, I let me students read one of my middle-grade story manuscripts (in PDF form). This May, I have decided to engage the students in my lessons on developing a character (especially the supporting characters). I will be interested to find whether they connect to the supporting characters and the depth with which they connect. Honestly, I am a bit nervous, but if they don’t connect, my writing goal for summer vacation can be to develop my supporting characters.