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I've been told that a lot of bad female characters are written mostly to be a support to another character, as a love interest, a cheerleader, an end goal, etc. I was told that a character being defined by how they interact with another character is going to leave them shallow and disappointing.

It is for common female characters to be written as support beams for a male character. I was told that presentation matters more than just being on screen, so even if a character has a lot of screen time if the character is mostly written to be a support, it will make them appear bad and shallow.

Is there a way to make a character written mostly as a support to another character not shallow at all? How can I write a female character that's meant to be the support to the main character without making her appear shallow?

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Many good male characters have supporting female characters to back them up. In Encyclopedia Brown, the titular 10 year old detective employed his best friend, Sally Kimball, as the brawn to his brains. Sally was described as pretty, but also one of the best athletes, and the only person in town under the age of 14 who physically stood up to Brown's recurring nemesis, the bully Bugs Meany and his "Tigers" gang, and at least one story per book would feature Bugs trying to get either of the pair in trouble to break up their success in stopping his various schemes. Note that Bugs would target Sally as much as Brown as either failing would be a win for him. Sally was the only thing stopping Bugs from kicking Brown's ass.

As mentioned in other answers, Lois Lane has largely been an intellectual equal to Superman in terms of their day jobs, if not a better journalist to Superman. Her early characterization was a working class girl and her damsel in distress nature was easily forgiven because she was much more aggressive in finding a lead... and thus trouble... than Clark Kent/Superman was... and that usually means getting into trouble with the villains before Superman. The only journalism thing that Clark is her superior is spelling, which in her field is important, but not crippling.

Other characters in this line are Spider-Man's Mary Jane, who wasn't introduced as Peter's love interest but rather the romantic rival to Peter's girlfriend Gwen Stacy (And much of that dynamic was inspired by the Betty-Veronica dynamic from Archie comics... Gwen was the "good girl" to MJ's "wild girl" persona. For nerdy Peter Parker, MJ was too wild and he wasn't interested. When the writers realized that the next logical step in Peter-Gwen's relationship was marriage and how it would age Spider-Man too soon, they instead opted for telling "The Night Gwen Stacy Died" which... well... made dating Gwen no longer an option. Even then, Peter didn't immediately start dating Mary-Jane... but rather grieved and swore off relationships for a long time. Her iconic line of "Face it Tiger, you just hit the jackpot" was her telling Peter to get over his hang up on dating her and admit that she was someone worthy of his attention. Stan Lee even said, at the time she was introduced, Gwen Stacy was Peter's Lois Lane. Mary-Jane was a bit of a shake up... but what got the switch to happen was realizing Mary-Jane had more personality a better dynamic than Gwen Stacy, but getting her to be the "girlfriend" wasn't their goal.

Another "love interest" who was anything but a well developed character came from the Doctor Who character "River Song" who was the only woman out of the Doctor's 50 years of traveling with mostly female companions that he ever romantically found interesting and part of what attracted him to her was her mystery. Since both were time travelers, they didn't have personal time lines that progressed linearly. Suffice to say, they were fated that the first time the Doctor met her, was from her perspective the last time she saw him before she died... and because of their interactions in her past, she knew that the man she was infatuated with being so clueless to who she was, it was a bad omen. Through their storyline, we find more encounters where River does not know of adventures we've already seen... but that she still has knowledge of future events she'd rather not discuss with the doctor... both because they are difficult for her and he is not yet as involved with the relationship as he needs to be... despite her knowing it turns out for the better. Here, the relationship is interesting and her character is anything but Shallow... because even when she's happy to see him, because each time they meet, he is more the man she loves and yet she is less the woman he loves... and vice versa... can you imagine life knowing the first time the love of your life meets you... will be the last time you will ever see him? And then realizing he'll grow more in love with you as you know him less and less?

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  • " Her iconic line of "Face it Tiger, you just hit the jackpot" was her telling Peter to get over his hang up on dating her and admit that she was someone worthy of his attention. " Yet I seem to recall that "Face it Tiger, you just hit the jackpot" is the very first line MJ says, the very first time we see her face. Peter had heard about MJ from her aunt, who was friend with Peter's aunt, and Peter's aunt had been trying to arrange a date for a while, and Peter thought it would be a boring date. Then MJ rings the doorbell and it turns out she's stunning, and she tells him that line.
    – Stef
    Aug 9 at 15:38
  • @Stef - I believe that line was from the Spectacular Spider-Man cartoon.
    – hszmv
    Aug 9 at 17:17
  • MJ was first mentioned by Aunt May in the comic Amazing Spider-man #15 in 1964, and finally made her appearance, with her "Face it Tiger, you just hit the jackpot" line, in #42 in 1966. Of course this line has been so successful that it's certainly been quoted again by other spiderman continuities. The Spectacular Spider-Man cartoon began in 2008. Here is the page where MJ appears in the comics: joediliberto.files.wordpress.com/2012/10/faceittiger.jpg
    – Stef
    Aug 10 at 8:40
  • (Sorry for nitpicking. I actually really liked your answer. And I loved the spectacular spider-man cartoon too; it's certainly miles above every other spider-man cartoon that came since.)
    – Stef
    Aug 10 at 8:42
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A support character should have a life and goals outside the person they support.

Cheerleaders feel hollow because they are clearly meant only to serve the needs of the main character. They are not people with their own thoughts and feelings, but rather props for the other character's development. You know a support is bad when they have no life outside the hero.

Do they have other friends? Hobbies? Goals? Dreams? Fears? They should.

You don't want a yes-man who only agrees with the hero. That's boring. Occasionally the support should doubt the actions of the protagonist. They should also act on their own from time to time.

The support should be strong enough to carry the show on their own should the hero go missing for a day or two.

Lois Lane from the Superman Animated series is an interesting example. Is she the deepest female character? No, but she's not made of cardboard either. She's a reporter with her own dreams and aspirations to get the next big scoop. She knows martial arts and could take care of herself in a scuffle if the villains weren't so ridiculously strong.

The most interesting example of her bravery comes from Justice League, though. There's an episode where the crew goes to an alternate dimension where Superman becomes a dictator, and who's one of the few people who calls him out for it? Lois Lane.

You see, this is where a lot of lead supporting characters fail. They're not willing to call out their friends when they go wrong.

If your supporting character is not willing to look the main hero dead in the eye and tell them they do not agree with their actions or their methods, then there is something wrong.

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  • Good call on using Lois Lane as the example of a good supporting character and love interest. It might interest you to know that from the earliest days of Superman lore, Lois was a very independent woman and could do her job just as well, if not better, than Perry White, Clark Kent, and Jimmy Olsen. It may not seem like it by today's standards, but Lois was always written to be more proactive in the stories and not the damsel in distress (her Silver age persona is more famous for this... But that's almost 30 years after her first appearance.).
    – hszmv
    Aug 8 at 15:55
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It's very difficult to write a character who stays in one role as complex because complexity requires different facets and different roles are most likely to draw them out.

The best way is to have her have to act in different situations that bring out different sides of her. Ideally contradictory ones. Sometimes she's patient, and sometimes she's not. In order to appear as one character and not as random, you need to fit them together into a person whose patience is short in some circumstances but not in others.

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So, I have supporting characters as well and I am concerned that they might've a little too developed, even more then my ACTUAL protagonist- Oops. Anyway.thats not a bad thing. Infact that's a very good thing. Interesting side characters that make your reader fall in love with there scenes. If you have watched bungou STray dogs then there is a side character called osamu dazai (inspiration of this character came from the actual Japanese author) and he is the most famous character and most loved character from that series, his fame among readers surpasses the actual protagonist Atsushi. The same things happens in mha. Good side characters are pivotal. You can check these shows out and make your supportting character years not shallow at all.
A few tips from my side would be.

  1. establishing interesting relationship between the mc and SC, why is their relationship with each other the way it is? In what ways do they support the mc. Establish boundary between them.

  2. let the character have individuality which can generate a whole character arc. It is not necessary for you to give it to them. Make them a mini protagonist, they could have a whole story revolving around themselves but not right now. Right now they are just a helping block.

3)give them flaws that shake the relationship between them and the mc and mc's relationship with other characters.

  1. include them in some ways to advance the plot.

  2. Make them over think and double cross the mc.

  3. make them funny and unpredictable.

That's all I can think of right now. Oh and show that mc's descisions impact the side characters as well

Japanese anime have brilliant side characters

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