Lesson No. 3: The Supporting Character’s Arc with Rae Bryant

You think I wuh-wuh-wuh-want to stay in here? You think I wouldn’t like a con-con-vertible and a guh-guh-girl friend? But did you ever have people l-l-laughing at you? No, because you’re so b-big and so tough! Well, I’m not big and tough.

Billy Bibbit to McMurphy, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ken Kesey

What about our supporting characters? The characters whose motivations don’t contradict our main characters, but rather work toward the same ends?

Billy Bibbit in Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, is a memorable supporting character who not only adds texture to the setting, he is an essential force in the protagonist’s arc. Bibbit’s suicide, following the above scene in both novel and film, is the defining catalyst to McMurphy’s confrontation of Nurse Ratched. 

We’ve explored, previously, how an exceptional character, regardless of narrative position, creates an empathetic reaction in the reader, not sympathetic. Bibbit could have easily been written as sympathetic. He is a stuttering mama’s boy locked away in a mental institution. How does Billy’s characterization push past sympathetic and into empathetic?  

Throughout his character arc, Bibbit learns to speak up in spite of his stutter, he finally has sex with a woman and he stands up to Nurse Ratched. Notice how his speech goes from confident young man to stuttering boy at the mention of his mother. Bibbit’s arc completes with suicide due to Nurse Ratched’s oppressive response.

Bibbit is merely a supporting character in the novel and film, and yet he becomes an essential and heart-breaking character who pushes the protagonist, McMurphy, to confront Nurse Ratched resulting in his own arc completion.

Billy Bibbit is a hard-working supporting character. Are your supporting characters working as hard as Billy Bibbit?


Assignment 1: Schematics

Download and complete The Character Arc: Supporting Character

Choose a supporting character from your work. How might you give this character more texture and complication? How might this character motivate your protagonist’s and/or antagonist’s character arc(s). 

Click on the above link and open the document. Save the document to your hard drive. Follow the directions and the writing assignment (also copied below) as given, step by step, in this document. Take one section at a time. Try not to skip forward to a later section. Let your discovery process build. We are focusing only on the supporting character for this week. Please submit both your completed Character Arc and following Narrative Exploration by the Sunday due date.

Assignment 2: Narrative Exploration

Write a 1000 word or less scene/story about your character, making your supporting character the protagonist of his or her own scene or story.

You might find that this character narrative will become part of the longer work, or you may find it will not. Either way, writing this character narrative is essential to knowing your character better in narrative form, and this will help you write your character with more feeling and interest in the longer work. 1000 words. This word count is firm.


Submit for Individualized Feedback

Please use Universal Manuscript Guidelines when submitting: .doc or .docx, double spacing, 10-12 pt font, Times New Roman, 1 inch margins, first page header with contact information, section breaks “***” or “#.”



In the comments section below, describe one of your favorite supporting characters. Feel free to discuss and have fun with this. At some point in time, you might find it helpful to create a schematic arc and 1000 word narrative for your favorite supporting character.