Thursday, August 14, 2014

Gotta talk about secondary characters

Okay, every now and then I get on this subject. There's a reason. When I first began writing publishers would tell me, too much about secondary characters. The story should center around the romance. Well, after 40 years of studying this trade I still think that secondary characters flesh out a story and make it better.

Sure in a romance, the romance is the subject. I agree. However, secondary characters bring more reality to the story. There is rarely a book that writes nothing but the hero and heroine. The reason is, we can get bored very quickly.

True they should not over shadow the main story which is the love story itself, but they should add to it. Give it flavor so to speak and enliven the action around them.

To me not having secondary characters is like having a funeral and not inviting anyone to come. Sad.

A woman that comes home to see her mother, has to have a mother in the scenes. A man with a kid, has to involve the kid in the story or it's too flat.

What exactly do secondary characters do for a story? Well, they flesh out the heroine and the hero in many instances, and give us a different perspective of their nature. They add humor, sadness, emotions of all kinds, and often keep the plot from going too dull.

You will find all kinds of secondary characters in my books. When I watch a movie, I like to see characters pop up and out. There was an example I watched tonight in an old western, The Undefeated, John Wayne and Rock Hudson were the heroes, but there was this one character that was a known coward. He stayed in the background until the bad General was going to shoot him to get John and Rock to cooperate. The character was up before the firing squad, and he put his hands over his eyes so he couldn't see them kill him. When they didn't and he took his hands down, there were tears running down his cheeks. This was a big man, with a child's heart. It enhanced the story. In Rio Bravo, John Wayne leaned over and kissed Walter Brennan on the top of his head because he was feeling sorry for himself. It was a tickler to see John do that. It brought something out of his character. The unexpected. This is what secondary characters do for a story, they bring forth a human element that we might not see in the hero or heroine if they were not there. And the scene can live in your memories forever.

When a writer writes they want to write books that instill memories in the reader. Secondary characters help accomplish this.

So never under estimate using them. Never leave something that might burn into one's head out of a book. I think it makes the difference between good writers and bad. Now, that's just my opinion and I'd love to hear more about what you guys think.

If you read any of my work you will remember characters like, Jackson Luther Montgomery, from Nick's Baby. Ma Jones from the boarding house in Heart of a Lady. Cal Travers from the Travers Brothers series. Can you imagine the books without dear old dad. Of course not.

So leave some comments. That's how we learn.


Rita Hestand


Tina Donahue said...

Great post, Rita - I think it's a matter of balance. If the story suddenly veers off into the secondary character's life (or lives), it takes away from the main romance. If the secondary characters can add to the main romance, all the better.

jean hart stewart said...

It's up to the author but I think secondary characters are essential to fill out both the story and different aspects of the protagonists.

Fiona McGier said...

Not only are secondary characters interesting, they can often lead the author to one or more sequels, as the secondary characters take over. My first series was just supposed to be about a woman falling in love years after a painful divorce. But her best friend was important to the plot, so I had to write a second book to give the best friend her own HEA. Then the daughter of a friend of theirs, who was only a teenaged babysitter in the first book, started telling me HER story, etc. I ended up writing 6 books in the series, and I have another one in my laptop.

I'm sure some authors start out planning on writing a series. I write one book at a time, and wait to see if any other characters want their day in the sun after that.

Redameter said...

Sorry for the late entry, but my computer was hacked and spent all yesterday getting it fixed. But today I am happy to say that it runs like new. Fiona I've had the same thing happen, when I wrote Chief Cook and Bottle Washer I wasn't thinking about the brothers stories, but they just made me fall in love with them too and I had to expand it. Now working on the 5th book of that series. It just happens. But secondary characters are important to make the story more plausable and keep it fresh.