What Makes a Good Side Character?

Episode #18 – November 23, 2023

Welcome to episode 18 of the Writing on Caffeine podcast. My daughter (Ragan Franzone) and I (Jonathan Franzone) are a father and daughter who have decided to write our very first novel. In this podcast, we are inviting you to come along on this journey with us.

In this episode, Jonathan and Ragan discuss what makes up a good side character. They also dive into some of their favorite (and least favorite) side characters and why they love or hate them. Spoiler Alert: Samwise Gamgee is the true hero!

Show Notes

Side characters, often referred to as supporting characters, play vital roles in fleshing out a story’s world, helping to advance the plot, and offering deeper insights into the protagonist and the narrative themes. Here are attributes and qualities that can make side characters compelling:

  1. Distinct Personality: Side characters should have their own unique personalities, traits, and quirks that make them memorable. They should not feel like mere props but like real people with their own characteristics.
  2. Relevance to the Plot: A compelling side character serves a purpose within the story, whether it’s providing insight, helping or opposing the protagonist, or revealing some aspect of the main characters or the world.
  3. Variety: A diverse array of side characters can provide contrast and depth to your story. They can represent different backgrounds, ideologies, and personalities, which can enrich the story’s universe.
  4. Consistency: Even if the side character’s role is minor, they should act consistently with their established personality and motivations. Inconsistency without reason can break the reader’s immersion.
  5. Interactions: The way side characters interact with the protagonist and other characters adds texture to the story. Whether through friendship, rivalry, mentorship, or another dynamic, these interactions can reveal new facets of the main characters and the story. Side characters will often contrast with or complement the protagonist.
  6. Distinctiveness: Side characters should stand out from one another. This can be achieved through distinctive dialogue, physical characteristics, or unique personal histories.
  7. Limitation: While it’s important to develop side characters, it’s also essential not to let them overshadow the protagonist. They should enhance the story, not detract from its primary focus.
  8. Growth and Change: Though not necessary for every side character, showing growth or change in response to events in the story can make a side character more realistic and engaging.
  9. Provide Humor or Relief: Often, side characters provide comic relief or emotional contrast to the main plot. This can be a refreshing break for readers and adds to the emotional richness of the story.
  10. Symbolism: Sometimes, a side character can symbolize a theme or idea within the story, serving as a metaphorical representation of an abstract concept. This can add layers of meaning to the narrative.


  • Lord of the Rings
    • Samwise Gamgee (distinctive personality, plot relevance, growth)
    • Merry & Pippin (comic relief, growth)
  • Parks & Rec
    • Ron Swanson (distinctive personality, interaction)
  • Sherlock Holmes
    • Dr. Watson (contrast, interaction)
  • Harry Potter
    • Fred & George Weasley (comic relief)
    • Hermione Granger (contrast, plot relevance)
    • Ron Weasley (contrast, plot relevance, growth)
    • Neville Longbottom (growth)
  • Mistborn / Wax & Wayne
    • Wayne (distinctive personality, plot relevance, comic relief, interaction, growth)
  • Hunger Games
    • Peta
    • Gale (Gale is the worst!)
    • Effie Trinket
    • Haymitch Abernathy

Symbolism in the Side Characters of Pilgrim’s Progress

John Bunyan’s “The Pilgrim’s Progress” is an allegorical tale, filled with characters that symbolize various spiritual attributes and moral lessons. Here are some supporting characters that provide symbolism in the story:

  • Evangelist: He symbolizes spiritual guidance and points the protagonist, Christian, toward the path of salvation. Evangelist’s role is to direct Christian on his journey, representing the divine guidance that believers seek.
  • Worldly Wiseman: This character represents human wisdom that is devoid of spiritual insight. His advice leads Christian away from the path of salvation, symbolizing the danger of relying on worldly knowledge rather than divine wisdom.
  • Apollyon: A demonic figure that Christian must battle, Apollyon represents Satan or spiritual evil. This character symbolizes the temptations and spiritual battles that believers face in their walk of faith.
  • Giant Despair: The keeper of Doubting Castle, Giant Despair symbolizes hopelessness and spiritual depression. His character illustrates the profound despair that can trap a believer if they lose sight of hope and faith.
  • Hopeful: As Christian’s companion on his journey, Hopeful embodies hope and encouragement. His character symbolizes the role of hope in the Christian journey and how believers can support each other.
  • Faithful: Another of Christian’s companions, Faithful represents loyalty to Christ and true belief. His martyrdom in Vanity Fair symbolizes the persecution that believers may face for their faith.
  • The Interpreter: The Interpreter acts as a spiritual guide to Christian, explaining various visions and allegories. His character symbolizes the Holy Spirit or the understanding that comes from spiritual discernment.
  • Talkative: He represents empty religious talk without true faith or righteous living. Talkative’s character warns of the danger of superficial faith that consists only of words and not sincere belief.
  • Ignorance: This character believes that he can enter the Celestial City based on his own morality and goodness, without true faith in Christ. Ignorance symbolizes self-righteousness and the misunderstanding of salvation by grace alone.


Books We’re Reading