News for Authors

Editor Tip: 6 Ways to Strengthen Your Supporting Characters

by Phil Stamper-Halpin|August, 2017

For fiction writers, a critical part of building the world for your main character is introducing other interesting, authentic characters. In this article, our editors provide tips to strengthen supporting characters.


1.      Turn each character into the main character . . . of her own book.

Think about the time and energy you put into building your main character: planning out her ideals, her interests, filling out a character profile, and/or building a character arc over the course of your novel.

See if you can do that for each of your supporting characters. How does each one grow throughout the course of your manuscript? What does each want? How will she get it? Could any of them be the main character of his own book?

Everything doesn’t have to be shown in the story, of course, but if you have a better idea of the character in your mind, he’ll seem more “real” to the reader.


2.      Give them morals and ideals that challenge the main character.

All of your characters most likely don’t agree on every page—as authors know, conflict is a key component of any story. But instead of focusing on conflict purely in reaction to the main character’s beliefs, dig into why the other character thinks differently. Is it an event from his past, or how she was raised? Answering these questions will build a fuller supporting character without turning her into a cliché.


3.      Make their dialogue distinct from the styles of both the main character and the other characters.

Once you’ve got a good idea of a character’s background, it’s time to think about dialogue. It’s common for groups of friends or family to speak similarly, but even those in the same family can have vastly different vocabularies, based on a variety of factors.

As freelance editor and YouTuber Ellen Brock explains, it’s important to consider five key elements in constructing dialogue style for characters: their upbringing, their education level, their career, their worldview, and their generation. (Watch the video for more information about each element.)

In later drafts, it can be a great revision technique to edit all of one character’s scenes or dialogue at the same time. This will keep you in each character’s voice and help you refine what makes his dialogue unique.


4.      Give each of your supporting characters a defining characteristic.

This is a common (and easy!) tip that’s especially helpful in early drafts. Once you know more about the characters, give each one a defining characteristic. Examples of this could range from the frivolous (always hiccups when she talks) to the more significant (visibly struggles with mental illness, like depression or anxiety). Giving your characters traits that belong only to them, especially ones that are contrary to existing clichés, will strengthen them and help them stand out in the reader’s mind.


5.      Prevent “cardboard cutouts”—add detail!

In early drafts, it’s common to have a fully fleshed out main character, while supporting characters simply exist in the background. The defining characteristics suggested above help readers keep track of the (sometimes many) characters in a manuscript, but authors still need to pull together all the tips in this article to make them stand out on the page.

Just as you might construct a beat to add detail to the world or the conflict, do the same for the supporting characters. Adding small bits of detail consistently throughout the manuscript will result in vivid, dynamic characters who could even stand alone in the story. (Perhaps in the sequel…)


6.      Don’t be afraid to combine characters or cut them altogether.

This is certainly the biggest challenge, but it can also have the most impact. If you’re having a hard time keeping track of your supporting characters in an early draft, that might be a red flag. An easy way to sort it out is to combine characters.

For example, if you have side characters who enter early in the manuscript but disappear abruptly, never to be seen again, you might be able to combine multiple similar characters into one. This works best for background characters who aren’t critical to the story, but can also be effective for larger supporting characters.


And, like anything else in your manuscript, if it isn’t working, don’t be afraid to cut it. It’s hard to say goodbye to any characters, but if you’re getting hung up on their scenes or you believe the pacing slows down whenever they enter the story, it might be time to say goodbye.


Phil Stamper-Halpin is Senior Manager, Publishing Development & Author Platforms for Penguin Random House.

8 New Year’s Resolutions for Writers

by Phil Stamper-Halpin|January, 2017

As we start a new year, it’s common for authors to set goals and resolutions for their writing. In this article, Penguin Random House editors chime in with New Year’s resolution ideas for writers. Read more

Tips for Effective Story Structure

by Phil Stamper-Halpin|September, 2016

Some writers outline their stories heavily, while others let the words and ideas flow as they come to them. In the end, there is no one-size-fits-all way to plot a story. Read on for some tips and tricks from our editors about structuring your next book. Read more

From the Editor: Getting Ahead with Revisions

by Phil Stamper-Halpin|March, 2016

Revisions can be a challenging part of the writing process, but also one full of opportunity. In this delicate stage, authors look at their work from a fresh perspective. But knowing which mistakes to look out for can be a challenge. We’ve asked our fiction and nonfiction editors about common pitfalls they see in early drafts and how authors can overcome them.

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Creating Reality in Fiction Writing

by Phil Stamper-Halpin|February, 2016

To the outside world, fiction writing gives an author unlimited freedom. From fantasy to contemporary and all genres in between, an author chooses—and often invents—the story’s setting, environment, culture, dialect, and technology, among other key elements.

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The Business of Blurbing

by The Author Portal Team|December, 2015

Soliciting blurbs makes many authors anxious—even though gaining an endorsement from someone you greatly admire can be an ego boost and an asset to your book. But the solicitation process also requires a sense of realism and practicality. We talked to four Penguin Random House editorial team members about the process of blurbing. Read more

Maintaining Continuity: Tales from the Copy Editor

by Milena Schmidt|November, 2015

We recently learned about the challenges authors face in maintaining continuity while writing. Fortunately, a key stage in the editorial process helps ensure that a book is, ultimately, the best version of itself it can be. Some authors have been known to praise copy editors as publishing’s unsung heroes. We checked in with a Random House copy editor to learn about what she looks for in a manuscript and how she gets the job done. Read more