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8 steps to Side Characters: How to Craft Supporting Roles with Intention, Purpose, and Power

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Do your characters fail to bring your story to life? Are they flat, boring or have no depth? Is your story lacking a little cohesion or sparkle?
In 8 Steps to Side Characters, you’ll discover:

+ A step-by-step guide for creating side characters that bring your story alive
+ The main types of side characters and what you should do with them
+ The key to crafting character depth that hooks readers
+ How to harness your character’s voice to deepen your reader's experience
+ Tips and tricks for using details to enhance characterization
+ Methods for killing characters that will help deepen plot, theme and story
+ Dozens of ideas for creating conflict with your side characters
+ Tactics for differentiating characters and making them feel real to your reader
+ Character archetypes and functions
+ The most common pitfalls and mistakes to avoid

8 Steps to Side Characters is a comprehensive writing guide that will help you create the side characters your story needs. This book is packed with tips and tricks for polishing characters for writers at any level.

If you want to power up your characters, eliminate dull and lifeless archetypes, and perfect your characterization, this is the book for you. By the end of this book, you'll know how to strengthen your characters to give your story, prose and plot the extra something special it needs to capture a readers and fans for life.

If you like dark humor, learning through examples and want to create better side characters, then you’ll love Sacha Black’s guide to crafting supporting roles with intention, purpose, and power. Read 8 Steps to Side Characters today and start creating kick-ass stories.

334 pages, ebook

Published July 29, 2021

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About the author

Sacha Black

18 books251 followers
If you'd like a FREE villains mini course to help you master superbad villains go here:


Sacha Black is an author, rebel podcaster, and professional speaker.

She has five obsessions; words, expensive shoes, conspiracy theories, self-improvement, and breaking the rules.

Sacha writes books about people with magical powers and other books about the art of writing.

When she’s not writing, she can be found laughing inappropriately loud, sniffing musty old books, fangirling film and TV soundtracks, or thinking up new ways to break the rules.

She lives in Cambridgeshire, England, with her wife and genius, giant of a son.

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 30 reviews
Profile Image for Ritu Bhathal.
Author 4 books119 followers
July 12, 2021
Some authors, you just know you are going to read and enjoy.
And one of those, for me, Sacha Black, has done it again with her next writing craft special, 8 Steps To Side Characters. I've loved her previous guides to writing Villains, and Heroes, and the Anatomy of Prose was just ENLIGHTENING!
You know you're reading a real (Sacha) Black beauty when the first chapter in the book is called F*ck The Rules! Her colourful language embodies all that is Sacha, ensuring a read full of laughs, snorts, and 'A-ha!' moments!
There is so much in the book to help you craft your side characters into solid people that readers will understand, and how to use them to push the story forward.
Side characters are fantastic literary devices, but you really do need to know the nuances of how to use them, and also, it's important to know what kind of side character you are writing... yup, there are several types. Sacha has it all covered!
What a fantastic resource that had me questioning all my side characters, past and present - in a good way. You can always count on Sacha for a dose of 'Real-talk' writing advice.
And one of my favourite lines, which I can just hear her saying... (I listen to Sacha's podcast, so her wonderful British lilt is ingrained in my mind!) "Don't be an @sshole - they're full of sh!t rather than words".
I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Shelley Wilson.
Author 26 books94 followers
November 1, 2021
Another cracking book in a series every writer should have on their bookshelf!

As with all the books in this series, I find myself skimming back over my published novels and analysing what I could have done better. Not in a (excuse the cliché), ‘head in my hands’ kind of way, but to grow as a writer and develop my craft.

Black has helped us decipher the anatomy of prose and held our hand as we took multiple steps towards understanding our heroes and villains. It was, therefore, a logical choice to include a book devoted to our side characters.

‘Side characters are mechanisms for exploring the plot, obstacles, and themes from a different angle than your protagonist.’

As writers, we may prefer to concentrate our time and effort on developing the main characters, but secondary roles are vital to our theme. Seeing the breakdown of major, minor, and cameo roles was helpful, and Black uses well-known books, movies, and TV shows to show the reader how her tips can be adapted to fit your idea.

There are exercises throughout the book to help you reinforce the learning as well as summary sections.

My favourite chapter (three) talks about your side characters' impact on your protagonist and plot. This section has helped enormously as I’m in the process of outlining my next young adult novel. Taking time to ask your side characters why they’re so important was a great tip, and it gave me a few pages of helpful notes and dialogue to use.

Sprinkled within the insightful advice and exercises, you’ll find Black’s usual ‘isms’ and dark humour that mark this as unique in the writing guide genre. Her distinctive voice is witty, sarcastic, yet passionate.

“…your reader doesn’t need to know the exact number of toe hairs your protagonist’s BFF has.”

Having met the author at multiple book-related events and listening to her Podcast, it was refreshing to see her usual potty mouth in full flow. In some books, especially how-to/self-help books, you wouldn’t expect foul language and reference to penis turrets! Still, the author refuses to deny her authenticity, meaning there are quite a few laugh out loud moments in this book.

A highly recommended resource for writers’ everywhere.

I received an ARC copy of this title in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Daniel Willcocks.
Author 85 books76 followers
July 29, 2021
8 Steps to Side Characters fundamentally changed the way I view the character balance of my stories. In this perfect companion to “10 Steps to Hero” and “13 Steps to Evil,” Sacha fills in the gaps to creating the perfect character roles to cast your tale. Laced with her signature wit, humor, and rebellion, one read of this book was enough to unlock a problem I was having with my own side characters so that I could finally focus on finishing my story. Can’t recommend enough.
Profile Image for Lola.
1,569 reviews246 followers
December 29, 2021
I bought this book as part of one of Storybundle's NaNoWriMo bundles. I really liked the idea of a book about side characters. This book surpassed my expectations, I had expected a short book with 8 tips about side characters. Instead it was a pretty long and in depth book with lots of ideas and tips about how to write side characters. I enjoyed reading this book. I have to admit the writing style didn't always work for me with the way the author tries to add some lighthearted humor and colorful language, but the information and was great and I enjoyed reading this book.

I like the focus of this book on side characters as I feel that side characters can really shine and add something to a book and I thought the focus on how to write side characters like this was very interesting. I liked how the author emphasizes there are no rules in writing. There were a few parts that didn't quite work for me, but the majority of this book was really good. I could easily visualize books that did some of the things in this book or not. I also liked the examples from tv shows, movies and books that the author includes to explain her points. There are spoiler warnings at the start of each chapter so you know to be careful if you don't want to be spoiled. I like this approach as it still has the examples and those who want to skip them can. I'll definitely be checking out more books from this author.

To summarize: I would definitely recommend this one if you want to know more about writing side characters. This book is packed full with tips and information on how to write side characters and I enjoyed reading it. There were a few minor things that didn't quite work for me, but I think that's just personal preference. I liked the focus on side characters and the way this book gives you ideas for how to write them.
Profile Image for Katlyn Duncan.
Author 20 books342 followers
June 24, 2021
Sacha Black has done it again! 8 Steps to Side Characters is a hilarious and informative writing craft book that breathes life into the important role that side characters fill in our stories. Black gives dozens of incredible examples—including those from her own novels—to deepen the lessons for leveling up your supporting characters. This is a must-read for any fiction author.
Profile Image for Brenda.
Author 4 books6 followers
August 3, 2021
Nothing has improved my writing more than Sacha’s books. This was no exception. Thank you for writing this, and helping us hone our craft. Bonus: the book is entertaining like no other craft book. A true gem.
Profile Image for M.J. Mallon.
Author 15 books194 followers
July 29, 2021
Review also on my blog with extra content: https://mjmallon.com/2021/07/29/8-ste...

8 Steps To Side Characters is part of Sacha Black’s many writing craft books – other titles include: 13 steps to Evil, 10 steps to Hero, and the Anatomy Of Prose.

Thank you so much for an ARC copy of 8 steps to side characters which I freely give my review and opinion of.

Sacha Black’s writing style is engaging, humourous, clear and informative. I definitely learnt a lot about writing side characters and also discovered how important these pesky folk are!

I had some laugh out loud moments. Here’s an example:

“If you don’t layer your conflict, and you only have world ending levels of conflict at every opportunity, it’s like electrocuting your readers over and over again.”

Yes, this had me in chortles.

Also, there are many lightbulb moments too.

“It’s a misnomer that to create big universal feelings you have to describe giant emotions. It’s actually the small, unique and intangible things about our loved ones that create that effect.”


“One thing all readers share in common is a heartfelt solidarity for a character going through shit times.”

“Just because you craft characters to be one way for the majority of the time, say, kind and tolerant, doesn’t mean they have to be that way or feel that way for the entire story.”

I read this on my kindle and highlighted lots of passages to refer to later.

At the end of each step she summarises all the important ideas that she has mentioned. There are also Questions to consider. Plus she makes it all really clear with real examples from film, and books (with spoiler warnings for well known books.)

Recommendation: Read this! Highly recommended – a must read and one to refer back to. 5 stars.
Profile Image for Sarah Louise.
21 reviews2 followers
July 27, 2021
Having read Sacha’s “Anatomy of Prose” it wasn’t a surprise to me that I loved Sacha’s latest book “8 Steps to Side Characters.”

Sacha has a way of making books on writing craft both hilariously entertaining, whilst still imparting insight and a vast amount of valuable information.

What I particularly like about “8 Steps to Side Characters” and “The Anatomy of Prose” is that the chapters are broken down into small, easy to follow chunks with a summary at the end of each section, making it easy to recap and ideal to dip in and out of.

I did receive an ARC (ebook) copy, but as soon as I was able, I ordered the (signed) paperback from Sacha Black’s website too, as I consider this book an essential addition to my writers toolkit.

An excellent read and an invaluable resource.
Profile Image for Claire.
Author 27 books234 followers
February 5, 2023
Really enjoyed reading this guide. It's very digestable and straightforward to apply to your own writing. You have to chuckle at Sacha's down to earth style, and I found myself nodding along at her pithy advice. Definitely recommend.
Profile Image for Kristina.
Author 25 books73 followers
June 29, 2021
I’m so used to listening to Sacha’s podcast that I read this book in her voice. She writes just how she speaks, which is part of what makes her nonfiction so unique.

While her writing style is amazing, it's the contents where this book really shines. Whenever I read Sacha’s books or listen to her podcast I learn something new, and that’s with too many years of studying writing to count.

Side characters are often neglected, but as Sacha demonstrates, they serve an important purpose in all books. Without them, there’s no conflict and our protagonists feel flat.

The examples are spread across genres, meaning there’ll be something you’re familiar with. There are also spoiler warnings at the start of each chapter, so if it’s something on your to be read/watched list, you can skip the spoilery bits. Personally I like those parts as it helps me decide if I want to spend my time watching/reading something, but I know that’s not for everyone.

The advice in the book is in-depth without feeling over-explained or condescending. The activities also help you to think long and hard about why you’re really writing your side characters.

I particularly liked the chapter on the different types of character death. Too often this is overlooked by writers instead of being a significant part of the story - as any character death should be, whether it's a literal or metaphorical death.

Whether you’re a beginner writer or an advanced novelist, there’s something in this book you can learn from. And likely some recommendations for you to discover along the way.
Profile Image for Annie Lima.
Author 28 books162 followers
December 22, 2022
There is a ton of useful information in here about how to create awesome side characters and use them effectively to create a powerful story. The author had a lot of valuable insights, and I highlighted dozens of things I want to look back at later for reference. For just the writing craft information, I would have given the book five stars.

I took off a star because it was painfully obvious this book had not been professionally edited. In pretty much every paragraph, there's at least one error in word usage or punctuation, and the book is rife with run-on sentences and comma splices. I once heard Sacha Black speak on a podcast in which she admitted she doesn't know how to use commas correctly. No kidding! If she's aware of that, why wouldn't she hire a professional to fix all the punctuation she doesn't know how to use? Instead, she published something that looks like a rough draft, full of excellent information but not yet ready to go out into the world. Sadly, that's the kind of choice that can give indie authors a bad name and a reputation for being unprofessional.

I took off another star because the book is overflowing with sex and profanity. I've never seen a nonfiction book that has so much of either, and all of it gratuitous. I suppose the author was going for humor and shock value, but it was distasteful and took away from her message. For that reason, I won't be reading anything else by Sacha Black, even though she has excellent insights into writing and many helpful tips for authors. If I could trust her other books to be clean, I would probably devour every one of them, lack of editing and all. It's not worth it, though. I'll find another author with writing craft books that don't leave me feeling dirty after I read them.
Profile Image for John.
407 reviews10 followers
September 27, 2023
Sacha Black is one of my favorite writers on writing. Sacha, I know you will read this at some point ,so I apologize for not having read any of your fiction,. Aftreadinging the Anatomy of Prose- I ordered all your books on writing.
As a professor of Lit and Comp- I read many books on writing, many are worthwhile and many- not so much. There is a whole niche of books about writing for upcoming writers and I think Sacha Black's works are becoming my favorite.
1.) She is funny.
2.) Has a great voice and keeps up the crude
3.) I secretly recommend her to my students because of her crudity, but for real, there is so much for them to learn here.
4.) I've been teaching writing for more than a decade and Sacha's clarity on several areas really is one of the more helpful texts for new writers and veterans.
5.) She doesn't try to impress through the typical use of lexical condescension many authors use which is another reason I recommend her- it's conversational, informative, and might make you pee a little laughing.
6.) As someone working on my Clinical Psych Ph.D., her work does wonders for the Freud in me.
Honestly, excellent works, will be reading all her non-fiction and am currently beginning to listen to her podcast. I also really like supporting INDIE Authors. If you are a publisher reading this- I'm telling you - make a deal with her now- she knows what she is doing.
Profile Image for Shae.
22 reviews1 follower
September 7, 2021
Sacha's non-fiction never fails to amaze (and amuse!) me. Every one thus far has earned its position on my 'favourite resources' shelf and 8 Steps to Side Characters has now joined them.

8 Steps to Side Characters is the first craft book I've read focusing solely on supporting characters in such explicit detail. I've learned a huge amount, gained insight, and have new concepts and skills to think about and incorporate into my work. It took five weeks to complete, as I read once (and giggled a hell of a lot), then re-read more deliberately while highlighting, sticky-noting, and making notes in the margin. It was worth every minute. I also have the accompanying workbook and will utilise that during the planning of my next series.

If you're not fond of a bawdy sense of humour, you may not enjoy Sacha's style, but I think she's hilarious and brings a unique and fresh perspective to writing. I can't wait to see what Sacha explores next!
Profile Image for M.J. Moores.
Author 50 books37 followers
July 27, 2021
Maniacal Machinations of the Most Motivationally Mischievous Kind

Sacha Black has done it again! Side Characters surpassed my every hope and dream. Her wit, humour, and no-nonsense writing style clarify the uses (and abuses) of side characters without compare. Black takes the time to explain terms, define roles, and provide examples without needing to talk over the reader's head or talk down to us. I had fun reading this book and I looked forward to diving into its pages whenever I picked it up.

Any writer, at any stage of their journey will find something of value in this book - even it it's just to remind you of what you forgot when you were first learning the craft.

PS: Love the potty mouth! Your descriptions were eloquently evil :)
Profile Image for Herman Steuernagel.
Author 14 books67 followers
January 20, 2022
While refining your side characters may not sound as sexy as dreaming of the perfect villain, or as exciting as crafting your hero, this book will make you realize they are just as important to your novel. Often overlooked, Black breaks down how to think of your side characters as more than just a plot device, and how to weave them integrally into the central theme, world and narrative.

Sacha Black, as always, has a laugh-out-loud take on craft. This book provides real world examples alongside her usual wit, charm and of course sly humor, to bring side characters to the forefront.

If you haven't been thinking hard about the role your side characters play, you need to be. If you want to elevate your writing to the next level, you don't want to miss this one!
Profile Image for Juneta Key.
Author 10 books37 followers
July 29, 2021
This book has a lot of wit and humor and colorful language. A very entertaining read. If a bit of swearing bothers you then you may not enjoy it as much, but highly recommend it.

Sacha breaks down terminology, uses examples, and talks about the gambit of side characters and their roles. I learned a lot reading this book and her previous books, 13 Steps To Evil How To Craft A Villian, Anatomy of Prose, 10 Steps To Hero, all the book are lively, funny, entertaining, and chock full of valuable information for writing great characters.
Profile Image for Matthew Goodall.
Author 7 books4 followers
August 14, 2021
As always, Sacha takes a topic that is possibly slightly less well considered, and pours her super-powered brand of wisdom, sarcasm and gin-laced breath over it, bringing it to life in ways that you may never have considered before.

All of Sacha’s explorations and examinations on writing craft are packed full of advice, inspiration, and examples, and enough encouragement to motivate you to higher levels.

If you want to improve your writing, and aren’t averse to the occasional episode of potty-mouth, you will Never go wrong with a Sacha Black book!
Profile Image for Abbie.
Author 5 books164 followers
July 16, 2021
I was lucky enough to receive an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Sacha has done it again! I adored The Anatomy of Prose, Villians, and Heroes. Side Characters was no less great! Sacha has a way of putting things into simple terms that everyone can understand. One thing I've always loved about her work is the modern examples she puts into her novels. I really enjoyed this one and suggest you check it out if you're struggling with your side characters!
37 reviews
July 12, 2023
I'm only 20 pages in and will continue to update but Sacha...SACHA. Never have I read a craft book as entertaining, enlightening, or educational in a way even my little hot garbage brain can understand.

I checked this book out from my local library, but I already know I'll be buying it and reading it over and over until the pages wither to dust and blow away in a light breeze.
Profile Image for L.M. Hatchell.
Author 9 books34 followers
July 29, 2021
I normally struggle to get through non fiction books, but Sacha's filthy humour and fantastic content always make hers a go to for me. This one did not disappoint in the slightest and came at the perfect time for me. I'm looking forward to putting the information into practice.
Profile Image for Joanne VanR.
30 reviews
October 1, 2021
Sacha explains side characters with a difference that made more sense to me. It has allowed me to define my sides' roles to move the story along. Her style of explanation is refreshing, and I laughed out loud many times.
Profile Image for Amy Tasukada.
Author 17 books80 followers
August 31, 2021
I really enjoyed this. It was fun read and I've never seen a book about side characters before. High snark and brought up a lot of interesting points I hadn't read/hear before.
Profile Image for Malyn White.
11 reviews
January 23, 2022
Sacha Black is a masterful (and hilarious) educator. I have learned more from reading her craft books than any class every taken. A must for any author's shelf.
Profile Image for George Bloom.
9 reviews
August 9, 2022
Worth a few parachutes of information to the fledgling write. you can follow her podcast for free.
Profile Image for Jessica Terry.
Author 29 books31 followers
June 5, 2023
It was as humorous as it was informative. Gave me a lot to think about for upcoming side characters, and those in books I've already published. I'm sure I'll be referencing this again at some point.
August 5, 2021
If there's a craft book that you need to have, it's this one. Side characters have just stepped up. Just when you think you've done what you can for them, Sacha helps you level them up more. Where they need it and where they don't. What's a protagonist without their side character(s)? Sacha also gives you some examples to help explain what she means. There are a few spoilers in there but with warnings before you get to them. Reading it was like having her there in the room with me through the book. And what a joy that was.
6 reviews
August 9, 2023
Really helpful!

I was hesitant to read this book at first due to the graphic language, but I’m glad I did read it. There is a lot of fantastic information inside. Definitely worth it! It was organized well and easy to understand. It’s a book I know will make me a better writer, so I highly recommend it: )
Profile Image for Aime Sund.
85 reviews6 followers
September 2, 2021
*I was given an ARC copy by the author and happily leave this review.*

Side characters are a class of their own within the scope of a novel. Authors often curse their existence when they barge in and demand more attention than intended because after all, the story is about the protagonist. Or some never step up to even take their measly due. Does any of this sound familiar?

If so, 8 steps to Side Characters: How to Craft Supporting Roles with Intention, Purpose, and Power is the book you need to consume to corral your wayward sidekicks. In her own inimitable rebellious style, Sacha Black outlines the tools and techniques for creating the appropriate side characters for your stories. I highly recommend purchasing the version you will use most often while writing because it will become a much-used piece of your craft library!

Sacha Black takes us through the three types of side characters and explores each one in-depth from mere idea to fleshed-out page-being. If you need help determining how many characters, which ones to create backstories for, or which to promote to main character or villain, you will find the answers and more within the chapters. As an editor and author herself, she notes common pitfalls and mistakes to avoid having your supporting cast fall flat or feel bland.

There is so much information packed into it that I know you won't read it just once. My own copy is already bright with highlighter and sits at the ready on my desk. Be sure that you can handle rampant humor and "occasional bad words" in your craft books, however, because you will laugh out loud during your study, I promise. Sacha's unique voice only serves to enhance the importance of strong side characters to a story. Your characters will thank you for reading it!
Profile Image for C.M..
Author 3 books95 followers
September 27, 2021
Sacha has done it again and is the QUEEN of non-fiction books on characters. This is the 3rd book on characters this is the triple Yahtzee for learning all about characters (check out Heros & Villains if you haven't already). Her wit and sarcasm (if you hate swear words - move along nothing to see here, these books are not for you) make me belly laugh and snort. I'm throughly entertained while devouring and learning what it is a side character does for a story.

There are no lectures here that you would fall asleep to, instead, you're getting examples and categories. You're learning about how to use a side character to further your plot and main character's agendas. How to build a believable side character and how to kill a side character effectively with cause.

I certainly recommend any writer who is interested in learning about characters add this to your reading list, I have never read a book that dives so deeply about side characters.
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