It’s an interesting thing to do—create characters.
As a child we create them outside of ourselves because we’re like blank canvasses without our own markings. Slowly we start scribbling and experimenting with color, and we spend a great amount of time creating ourselves—the main characters. Some people have trouble coming to terms with who they are as the main character, so they spend their time developing other characters, whom they mix like colors into the palate that is life. The minor players, however, are just as important in life; music needs harmonies just as it needs the lead, and together they make a song.
The same is true in writing: in order to create a good protagonist, a writer must give that character a supporting cast—the people who teach the protagonist new things, influence him/her, shape the story arc in some subtle but driving way—including an antagonist, which requires a complex understanding of the protagonist and can be the hardest character to create. However, the antagonist often offers up the best lessons for the protagonist. Maybe these lessons take place just for a reflective moment, or perhaps they change the pace of everything, but how the main character changes because of it is the ultimate question.
Real life works the same way, I think. I don’t know about you, but I’ve spent my entire life dissecting all aspects of who I am, and out of nowhere I’ll do something out of character. What does it mean? Why did I do it? Who or what triggered it? It’s easy to see these things spill out into the story from others, but to really know yourself and to know the lesson from which it is triggered…well, it takes a lot of inner dialogue and supporting characters to work it out.
In my writing, I love the minor/support characters because I’ll see little bits of myself in every one of them, even the villain. In these characters, I find my great-grandmother, my co-workers, my siblings, the hippie from Los Angeles who taught me about karma, or other various people who have left imprints on my own life. Without these people immortalized in the pages of books, or in life, what kind of story would I really have but a flat narrative—or a boring biography, perhaps?
Ernst Fischer said, “I don’t want life to imitate art. I want life to be art.” They say what makes art beautiful is its imperfections, and the subtle pauses in sound is what makes good music. I, for one, like learning about those imperfections in myself on and off the page. After all, in life you can climb up a mountain to look inside, but eventually you have to come down that mountain and apply what you’ve learned.