I have three characters, who are supposed to be good friends. Athos, Aramis, and Porthos, if you wish. Instead, I have two characters who share a strong Frodo-Sam relationship, and the third guy, who is almost a "third wheel".

It's not that my "Porthos" is less developed than the other two. But he is less cerebral. If I think of them as a Freudian Trio, he's the id. He loves physical activities, he's adventurous, he is the one who is ready with a joke to ease a tense moment, he is practical in his thinking, so if the other two get into arguing ideals, he's bringing them back into the here-and-now. If the other two are "Frodo" and "Sam" he's "Pippin".

To make things worse, the other two are both POV characters, while he's not, not until significantly later into the story.

Because "Porthos" is less cerebral, and because he's not a POV character, he gets less time in the spotlight, which, I think, exacerbates the problem.

I'm telling they're 3 friends, but I'm showing 2+1. How can I change that?

  • Do you actually need this third character? In several works of fiction characters get often grouped together into a single one that preserves the defining characteristics while providing depth.
    – NofP
    Feb 23, 2019 at 15:14
  • @NofP I do. In terms of character interactions, I need the id, I need the humour, I need the down-to-earth attitude. The group would be unbalanced without him. In terms of plot, he sets in motion some events, enables others. Feb 23, 2019 at 15:22

3 Answers 3


First, from the description it is clear that these are not three similar characters. In fact, there are two MCs, and another character. The question is "how to make the reader feel that the third character is equally present in the story, and not just popping out here and there?""

There are three cases I can think of:

  1. the three characters are roughly equivalent (e.g. three hobbits), and the issue is that you have not fully outlined the motivations of the third one.
  2. the third character is different from the other two (e.g. two hobbits and an orc), and the issue is that
  3. the third character is Jar Jar...

Case 1. I think that the issue could be that you find your third character not-relatable.

This perhaps is due to the fact that you don't know what truly drives them. Their actions are justified as a whim, and taken without much of a thought. Imagine now that you had to put yourself into their mind and justify the truest reasons of their actions. "Out of a whim" is not a justification. There needs to be a stream of thought in their mind that went from "external cues" to "action".

Taking Pippin as an example, one may find him funny, clumsy, lighthearted. Now imagine living all your life under such a mask. Perhaps you wished to do something worth praise and never quite succeeding because you believe to be clumsy, or not clever enough. Pippin may laugh at himself, and may play the fool to fill his role in the hobbits' society, but perhaps, deep inside himself, he just wished for a bit of respect. In fact, by the end of the Lord of the Rings, Pippin is entirely another person, with stature and dignity, and not one in Gondor would lightly say of him that he is a fool.

It seem that you have quite understood and outlined your other two characters. You need to work on this third one. Place three people at the same starting point. What would you need to push one, and only one of them, to be like your third character? Considering that the three characters are interchangeable in this scenario, it is fair to imagine that the third one has a longing for a more normal/respectful existence, even if it does not look like that, even if they seem so lighthearted.

It does not need to explode in a conflict with the other two, but it will serve to give context to the reader to related to your third character. Anyone can relate to a jest, just bring forward the reasoning.

Not the best example, but you can go from telling about the crazy jests:

He covered himself in white paint, and danced across the room, like a chicken. "Look, I am a swan!" said Porthos. "You are making a mess." laughed Athos. They ran after him with Aramis.

To showing the inner thoughts that lead to them:

He covered himself in white paint, and danced across the room, like a chicken. "I'm a beautiful, beautiful swan." he said. "No you're not. You're just making a mess." laughed Athos. "Yes, I'm a swan. And if I am not, then I want to be a swan! You two are what you want, why can't I be what I want?" insisted Porthos flapping his arms.

Case 2. If the third character is a completely different nature compared to the other two, then the true issue is that the other two are not interacting in a relatable manner to the third character.

A third character that is different in nature to the other two will have a constant presence in all their actions, all their conversations, and all their activities. Nothing can be said or done without taking into account the presence of the third. It is a looming presence. It does not need to be negative, but it can't ever be ignored.

Think of it as two elephants hanging around with a zebra. The zebra may do things that look funny, or strange, but, "hey, it is our friend the zebra". They want to go for a swim? Discuss to check if the water is ok for the zebra. They want to grasp fruits from the tree? Discuss to pass some fruits to the zebra. Want to do X? Discuss how zebra will react.

It will not be on a narrative equal level, and from the question it is clear that it is not, but it has to become equal in terms of presence. Zebra can do all the crazy things zebras do, but the readers are now ready for it, and, actually, they will expect it.

No, there is no case 3.

  • 1
    My case is rather #1, and like Pippin, my "Porthos" starts out rather more childish than the others - his arc is about finding out what he cares about strongly. But your case #2 gave me an idea: in some ways, my "Aramis" is the zebra to the other two elephants. (Sort of like Frodo and Pippin are not the same rank as Sam). Maybe I can use that. Feb 23, 2019 at 16:13

1) Why doesn't Mr. Id have a POV scene until later in the story? It's your story. Give him an arc.

2) Instead of Porthos, Aramis, and Athos, think of Kirk (ego), Spock (superego), and McCoy (Id). While Kirk and Spock spend more time together on the bridge, the three are always thought of as "the Big Three." McCoy's opinion is sought. He's included on missions (not all, but enough). He comes onto the bridge to snark or complain. He's a presence, even if he's not necessarily part of what Kirk and Spock are doing.


Porthos needs more depth.

Actually, there is a psychological theory of friendship. The premise is two-fold: First, if you and I like the same kind of music, the same kind of books, the same kinds of restaurants or games or political articles, or whatever (not necessarily all at once), then by us being friends, we double our odds of chance discoveries. If you find something new, you share it with me, and if I find something new, I share it with you. There is synergy here too: It isn't just a trade, you giving me your finds in return for me giving you mine. We can enjoy the new find together, feel the same sense of appreciation, and make an emotional connection that grows with our mutual enjoyment.

The second fold of this argument is complementarity; when we are each good at different things that are important to both of us. One may be good at composing original music, the other at poetic lyrics and singing. One may be good at illustration, another good at writing children's books. One may be good at original fashion, another good at marketing fashion.

I know I make that sound like a business proposition, and it is the reason many friendships result in businesses. But it doesn't have to be business, sometimes it is just life skills, and again there is synergy: Together as friends we may be better at life than either of us would be alone, because you can rely on my skills that you don't have, and vice versa. It is important this be two-sided, of course, or the motivation for friendship doesn't exist for one of us, and that party will pull away, or would rather be friends with somebody else that is a better fit.

To get to your question, you need to make Porthos both likable and really good at something, so Athos and Aramis want him around. Given his more physical nature and their more intellectual nature, Porthos might read people very well, he might be their natural lie detector. He may be their bargainer, the guy that can get a room at the inn when nobody else can. He may be their emotional counterweight, the guy that keeps their spirits up when they have been defeated, or captured.

He can be the guy that brings the fun, that somehow always has a laughing girl on his lap, the guy whose table in the bar is always the loudest party, the guy that can't be beat at darts or cards, and his friends may enjoy that, because they couldn't do it themselves, and even smart people like to unwind once in a while.

Porthos can be the guy that is suspicious of human nature (whether warranted or not), the devious bastard, and because of that spots traps and tricks the other two would not, because he can think like the villain.

You have already partitioned their personalities. Now you have to figure out why we have these partitions and what good do they do. Porthos with his physical, visceral, gut logic nature has an important role to play in the survival of the group. In addition to sharing some traits (including beliefs) that his friends do have, Porthos has something his friends don't have, and they know it, and they appreciate it. The emotional synergy created both by sharing what they do have, and receiving what they don't have, is what makes them friends, why they (platonically) love each other and like to be with each other.

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