Saturday, April 20, 2013

Secondary Characters

I often base my characters on the personality traits of friends and acquaintances because, in life, we are all characters. While this can give characters a deep base of traits which makes them sparkle, unlike life, no matter how personable or seemingly real, I know each needs a purpose within the story's arc or they become superfluous. Because of this, these secondary characters for me often cause the most trouble and I keep questioning their presence. Why are they there?

In life, people surround us and we often just tune out their presence. Strangers move through our lives in anonymous oblivion. We all have family who give guidance, friends who offer advice and support, teachers, bosses, and coworkers. These people help us become better people or guide us in our careers. In a story, however, each character must add to the plot. If they do not advance the story, they are virtually useless. Lately I've noticed this effect in multiple-volume romances based on a particular city or locale. With each new story, the heroines and heroes of previous stories appear as secondary characters, often with little purpose other than a reminder of the previous story.

I find the most interesting secondary characters often act as mentors to the main character. They give help and advice, warnings, or establish obstacles. The strangest, often most compelling ones, give seemingly good advice but ultimately draw the main character into trouble, or act as an enemy who unexpectedly gives aid in an untenable situation. The main character may accept or reject the mentor’s advice according to their want, but the reader knows the advice given and help offered. This lays the basis for the main character's irrational behavior when they ignore warnings. From their mistakes they change or learn some truth that helps overcome the climactic moment.

Secondary characters have another important function besides advising the hero. They flesh out the world. Their chatter and action help establish the morality, the logic, and the culture of the story's setting.

Secondary characters can be friends, indifferent acquaintances, or even villains, but tor me, the author, their creation becomes a balancing act between too little and too much development. Taken altogether, they can be hard characters to control, and just like in life, sometimes create unexpected obstacles and dilemmas not only to the hero or heroine, but the writer.

 Available from Champagne Books.


Big Mike said...

Some of my most unique and interesting characters were derived from people I encountered while waiting for my wife at stores and malls, which I do a lot (g).

Michael Davis (
Author of the Year (2008 and 2009)
Award of Excellence (2012)

Julie Eberhart Painter said...

The eeriest thing is when a character pops into my story, makes a place for his or herself, and then shows up in my life much later. Makes me wonder if I'm living in a rerun!