Character Creation: Side Characters

My very awesome philosophy professor one day decided to give us an ethics problem, a logic problem with no real answer to choose. The situation was, that you have been kidnapped by an evil villain, and have been put at the junction of a train station where the speeding train can either go on the left track or the right track, and which track it ends up on is completely up to you. The evil villain has rigged the train so it will crash into the station and kill only whoever is at that station, so either way, you’ll end up killing someone. If you don’t decide one side or another, the evil villain has put everyone you know and love into a warehouse with his goons aiming machine guns at them if you don’t decide which track the train goes on. So the point is: someone’s going to die any way you try to stop this.

The question of ethics comes to WHO is inside the train stations.

In train station 1, we have:

  1. Dr. Cancer- He is a super famous scientist with a lab and is going to find the cure of cancer in a week if he survives this.
  2. Mr. Everything- he will end up writing one of the most important manuscripts on some truth in life in the next year, which will change the course of this study.
  3. And one famous actor or pop culture star like Miley Cyrus, Matt Bomer, or whoever you find actually has some dignity.

In train station 2 we have:

    25 petty criminals- to CLARIFY, these men did not kill anyone. Petty just means they’ve done the run-of-the-mill crimes, like robbing a convenience store or something.

So there’s your question, who do you choose to kill?

My class went off into a myriad of questions, and from what I gather, most of them, in the spur of the moment, would have sent that train hurtling down to train station 2, because there is no guarantee that these criminals will actually do any good anyway, so might as well get the guarantee.


Don’t classify us as murderers yet, because after that, we began asking questions: could the cancer scientist’s lab buddies make the cure of cancer without him? Do the petty criminals have families, or small children who are dependent on them? Do the criminals have any chance of turning their life around and doing good as well? The list went on.

The point is, if you were ever in a situation like that, if you ever wanted to make the best decision, what’s most important is the context.

That’s where my connection to side characters comes in. There are only two methods to making them, either winging it and giving them almost no personality at all, or at least knowing their context so they’re not just a number in your book. The first option is obviously acceptable, no one will shoot you if you do it, and if you were in the philosophical situation explained above, no one would blame you for just taking out the criminals. You didn’t really know anything about them, and there’s no guarantee of anything. It’s not your fault if you do the first.

If you really want to make a side character that counts? Create a context for them. Let them have a life too, breathe it into them. You don’t need to know every specific detail, but at least get his framework, feel out his insides. Sure, he won’t get much screen time, but if you want to add some spice to your story, it’s always great to find a small guy that anyone can love/hate, you know what I mean?

The side characters need some love too, and some time. I may not be the biggest detail person, but I can tell you, every piece of good work will be appreciated, maybe even by that tiny laugh that side character can squeeze out of someone. Human beings are fickle, wonderful people, including the times when their period in your life is too short for long-term impact, where they can blow you away.

See you next week!


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