Letting Support Characters Shine: In the Shadows by Amy Cronin

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In the shadows

By Amy Cronin

Author Amy Cronin on the importance of knowing and understanding all characters in your book in making it a truly engaging read. 

Before my publishing deal with Poolbeg Press, I completed two online courses with Writer’s Ink. Over five days, a writing prompt was delivered in the morning, and the attendees submitted their one-hundred-or-so words that evening. These were then critiqued by experienced writers who offered invaluable advice. These courses offered in-depth insight into what makes a book stand out. One nugget that has stayed with me is to really, truly know the characters that are central to your story.

I was writing Blinding Lies at the time, which would go on to be published as part of a trilogy. So, following the astute advice given, I sat down and really thought about the main character I had created – Anna Clarke. I knew she was young, in her mid-twenties. She taught self-defence classes (handy!) with her dad’s friend and was close to her brother and his daughter. She liked maths and statistics, which offered her logic and order in a world where both had been stripped away from her. Her parents were missing. She was desperate to know where they were and why they had gone. But what were the really intimate details of her personality that would offer a glimpse into the person behind the plot? Did she drink coffee or tea? Lattes, it turns out. What was her favourite music? Bach, in memory of her mother. Did she cook for herself or rely on ready meals? Frozen pizza, mostly. Knowing these things about the main character allowed me to write her authentically, to feel she was as real a person as I could make her. And hopefully, in creating a character that feels as genuine as possible, the reader will connect with her too.

Amy Cronin

This sage advice applies to the cast of support characters too. Of course, every fictional character’s life is populated with a variety of side- characters, family members and friends that either support their story or cause enough friction to drive the plot. And although the main protagonist is the central focus of the book, the supporting characters can elevate the book into something more memorable.

Everyone knows the eponymous Harry Potter and his perilous adventures. But who would J.K. Rowling’s fictional boy hero have been without his friends Ron and Hermione? Though J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings masterpiece features an ensemble cast, the most memorable are the fearless band of friends focused on helping Frodo in his quest. Closer to home, in Cork writer Michelle Dunne’s Lindsey Ryan psychological thrillers, when the ex-soldier’s troubles grow too great, she turns to her old army friends, who inject humour and a light-hearted camaraderie into an otherwise tense storyline.

Support characters serve many purposes, and often work just as hard as the main character to keep the reader engaged and drive the plot. While the main character is often created as an everyday, inoffensive and morally sound person – someone readers may see themselves in and really root for – the support character has greater scope to make mistakes. Readers can forgive a cheeky, opinionated friend for speaking uncomfortable truths or upsetting a family gathering. They can get away with acting in a tactless or obnoxious way, because, after all, they’re not the character we are supposed to be really invested in. Often, when the plot is driving forwards and the protagonist preoccupied with steadfastly achieving their goals, a support character can inject humour to lighten the darkness.

Anna Clarke is the main protagonist of the trilogy, beginning with Blinding Lies. An unlikely heroine, she is trying to help her friend Kate, whose recklessness drives one of the major plot points. As the series progresses, Anna’s close friend Vivian becomes more present. Where Anna is controlled and keeps her emotions in check, Vivian is impetuous and driven to succeed, whatever the cost. She features in Twisted Truth as a journalist; she is dogged in her pursuit of truth, badgering detectives, not caring about ruffling feathers. Her behaviour directly contradicts Anna’s. Yet Vivian is a great friend, quick to swoop in when Anna suffers, to clean up and pick up the pieces without seeking thanks or praise. She is wonderful but flawed. She is truly human.

In the Shadows allowsthe layers around Vivan’s character to be further peeled back for readers. She offered Anna a home when the final events in Twisted Truth proved too much. She is a willing listener, a constant support. But again, a flawed support character that is at times funny and other times frustrating. Vivian is researching cold cases for a tv series, determined to elevate her career by focusing on unsolved crimes. As the Detective in the series, William Ryan asks, “Can’t you let the dead rest?” She asks Anna to help her, partly to offer her friend distraction, partly because she knows the danger she has put herself in while digging into the past. Even though she is threatened and warned off the investigation, this only serves to push her deeper into the search for answers. She makes ill-judged decisions, ones the main protagonist Anna could never plausibly make, because to do so would be too far out of the norm for her character. In a tense scene near the conclusion of the story, Vivian’s tenacity and ruthless push for answers puts both she and Anna in huge danger.  

While creating the main characters in any book needs careful consideration, the dialog and actions of their supporting cast can elevate the story. Side-characters can showcase the true nature of the main players, serving as props to enhance the reader’s understanding of who they are and how they treat people. Knowing and understanding all characters in your book at a deep level makes it a truly engaging read. 

(c) Amy Cronin

About In the Shadows:
In the shadows

Tom has found you! You need to run!

Kate Crowley has tried to put the past, and Cork city, behind her, but Tom Gallagher isn’t ready to absolve her of her sins. As she flees across Spain his henchmen are only steps behind her, his net ever-closing. But someone on the inside is willing to betray him, offering Kate a lifeline.

Everything Tom worked for is crumbling. His family is destroyed, his life falling apart. Ely Murray is back, claiming the city and Tom’s business as his own. A man can only be pushed so far …

Anna Clarke spends her days watching and waiting. Checking over her shoulder for Dean Harris, the rapist who has evaded the gardaí. Unable to sleep, waiting for news from the final search for her long-lost parents, she needs a distraction. Researching a cold case with her friend, an unsolved murder on the city streets, offers what she needs. But the past is a dangerous place to revisit …

In the Shadows is available now with Poolbeg Press in all good bookshops and online.

Order your copy online here.

About the author

Amy Cronin lives by the sea with her husband and young children in Cork, Ireland. A former tutor at Munster Technological University, she worked in the Irish civil service for a number of years before pursuing her passion for writing crime fiction.

She has published two crime thrillers, Blinding Lies and Twisted Truth with Poolbeg Press. In The Shadows is the final instalment in the ‘Anna Clarke’ trilogy and will be released in January 2024.

You can follow Amy online @AmyCroninAuthor (X) & amyjcauthor (Instagram)

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