During a discussion starting at lunch and ending much later, my friends and I noticed a strange thing. We had been discussing the Harry Potter series and many of our favorite characters were the minor or side characters (Minerva McGonagall for me.) The problem, we realized, was that the main character Harry was likeable but fell flat when compared to the whimsical Luna, acerbic Snape or the hilarious Fred and George Weasley. Herein lays the problem with main characters: while trying to create a protagonist to whom everyone can relate to, the author sometimes turns them into an “average Joe/Jane” that becomes more of a plot device than a character.
Side characters just have a certain quirkiness about them, along with some unique interests and traits, that can allow them to steal the show. In the John Green novel PAPER TOWNS, the main character, Quentin, has these ridiculous and geeky (in the best way) friends Radar and Ben, the first of whom is constantly editing a Wikipedia-like website for some inexplicable reason. Their comments fortunately keep you from getting bored since Quentin can be a bit dull and Margo-obsessed at times. In BEAUTIFUL CREATURES, by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, Ridley and Link stuck out as characters since Ridley has the best lines, and Link has this very loyal, outgoing personality. The dynamic between them was also less predictable and more entertaining than the Ethan/Lena one. While I liked the side characters from these novels, it can be almost frustrating when you find yourself reading for a glimpse of a character instead of being drawn in by the story and main character(s).
In contrast, there are books where both the side and main characters are well thought out. Michael Grant's Gone series has a multitude of characters, with each one having an individual personality and background. There are a few key characters, but you end up seeing a bit of all of them. Cinda Williams Chima also does a great job of having a variety of colorful characters in the Seven Realms series, from thieves to soldiers. I love books and series like this where you have strong, developed main characters but also side characters that are on the same playing field as them. In these kinds of books, you could almost have the book written from a different perspective and still have a great story.
I think original side characters add to any story, but that they should not overshadow the main characters. What is your view on this and who are your favorite minor characters?