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I’m Not Your Prop

 

If you don’t think secondary characters are as important as the main characters of any story, you would be completely wrong. They are not simply props. They play many important different roles; The side-kick, The Tempter, The Skeptic, The Driver, The Mentor, and The Mixture to name a few. I’ve listed definitions of these roles below.

Often, SC (secondary characters) disclose bits of backstory (truths) which exposes our hero’s motivation for championing a cause. They can unmask aspects of personalities which our characters (not necessarily the heroes) are determined to keep hidden from the world. They can explain why characters make the choices they do. They can do all this in a few words.

 

Sometimes, secondary characters remind the main character of their humanity, shifting their decision in championing a cause and thus changing the plot’s direction.

They remind the cast of characters why the hero’s quest is important, especially when the hero has given up hope.

They can reveal to the reader unseen forces that add to the plot’s mystery or suspense. Or their can throw in a red-herring depending on their own motives.

 

SC can offer the reader hope when none seems possible.

They can hold a memory or essential information and be the key to the hero’s success.

They can offer different perspectives and change the plot, or add another story line. (Sequel?)  

They can be the one whose death exposes the hero’s heart and changes his direction.

Secondary characters have power and authors should take as much time to develop them as they have their heroes.  You should know their backstory even though it’s not be revealed to the reader as much as your main character’s history. Their backstory is what drives them which effects the storyline. Knowing it makes them real and thus gives their words and actions validity. Give them substance!

Don’t confuse secondary characters with extras.  Extras are those characters who walk into a book once or twice. Extras certainly need a voice (not cliché’, unless intended to be so) but their backstory is non-exist to the reader.

Every character is important to the story. They all hold threads to the plot. They all add texture to the overall story.  Take the time to make each as real as possible. Your reward will be a keeper book.   

 

 

The Sidekick

This character represents the faithful friend who always stands by the protagonist.

The Tempter

This character is the right hand of the antagonist. It’s a secondary character that can help you create new subplots and obstacles the protagonist will face throughout the story.

The Skeptic

Although the role of the secondary character who complicates the achievement of the protagonist’s goals is usually taken by the tempter, it doesn’t always have to be like that. Sometimes there are characters who help the antagonist by standing in the protagonist’s way without having anything to do with him.

The Driver

The role of the driver is to make the protagonist act in order to set the plot in motion. When the protagonist has doubts about whether to take a path or not or gets stuck because he doesn’t know what decision to make, it’s the perfect time for the driver to take part in the story. It’s not necessary for the secondary character to solve all of the protagonist’s doubts. It’s much more interesting if the hero only receives clues that lead him to decide which path to take. It’s just a little push because the final decision should rest with the main character (if it didn’t, he wouldn’t gain knowledge from experience).

The Mentor

This secondary character requires special mention. Apart from giving the protagonist a key to solving a particular conflict (which is also the role of the driver), he also has the function of guiding the protagonist (for a longer period of time than the driver) and sharing knowledge at crucial moments in order to return him to the right path.

The Mixture

Not everything is black or white, and the secondary characters we’ve mentioned don’t have to be exclusively limited to their role. Sometimes we can mix different types of characters to create new roles and add depth to the story. The role of the pseudo-villain is a clear example of how mixtures work – the tempter (or helper of the antagonist) redeems himself towards the end of the story and becomes a driver or sidekick who helps the protagonist achieve his goal.

 

NO HOLIDAY IS PERFECT, UNTIL….

IT IS. PERFECT,

22 responses to “I’m Not Your Prop”

  1. Jeanine Englert says:

    Autumn,

    Thank you for this post! I often adore my SCs, so much so that they usually get their own book later on. I love how you’ve defined so many of them here…especially how some of SC’s can change over time. Just like all the other characters in the book…

    Have a great Monday, and happy writing,

    Jeanine

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    • What would any hero or heroine be without the cast of characters behind them. Even Tom Hanks in Castaway had Spalding, right?

      Thank you for stopping by and commenting, Jeanine.

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  2. Julia Day says:

    Thank you for this great reminder, Autumn.

    I often have a timeline chart in my research notes–and I list most of the named characters and give them their “dates” too: birth, marriage, graduation from whatever they do. It helps to remind me that they should have complete lives that intersect with the MCs.

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  3. I love secondary characters – and I love it when we later get to see things from their perspective! Especially if they aren’t necessarily the ones you might have thought of as hero or heroine material. Sometimes it’s easy to think of these characters in terms of what they do for our hero/heroine or plot and forget that they need to be fully motivated and realistic in their own thoughts and actions, but if they feel fully real they make the entire world feel more authentic. Great reminder, Autumn! 🙂

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    • Exactly, Vivi. I love when a secondary character reveals his or hers personal goal/need/ desire and it conflicts with the hero’s, especially when I find myself rooting for the underdog, because they’re right and the hero is wrong. This makes a story great.

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  4. Tamara Hogan says:

    One thing I’ve found in my own work is that secondary characters don’t stay secondary for long – many become heroes and heroines of future books – so it pays off to develop them as fully as possible as early as I can. That said, some characters still manage to surprise me. 🙂

    I took an online series-writing class from Marie Force a year or two ago, and one thing she suggested was to re-read the previous books in your own series before starting a new one. I’ve been following this advice, and…yeah, Marie is wise. One thing I noticed right away is that secondary or walk-on characters for whom I had no previous plans are suddenly rich with possibility.

    Great post, Autumn!

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    • Thanks for sharing your education through Marie. Great advice. I think everyone of our readers should check her classes and classes of others out, like Margie Lawson. Love Margie.

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  5. Heather D McCollum says:

    Great post, Autumn!
    If a secondary character isn’t doing anything through the book, I either go back and make them important or I erase them from the story. They can not simply be a vase sitting in the corner, even if you have plans to have the vase wobble and shatter on the marble floor. There must be more to a secondary character.

    Sometimes SCs become so wonderful that they need their own book. That happened in my last Highland series. The secondary character in the first book became the heroine in the 4th book. And she was wonderful and probably more memorable than the initial heroine (although that had to happen in her own book, no overshadowing the heroine!).

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    • I love when that happens, Heather.

      I have quite a few secondary characters who are triggers for my heroes and heroines. They might not be on every page or even in every chapter but the spurred something, either conflict for my h&H or just sheer enjoyment for my readers. One of my secondary characters in PERFECT prompt quite a few readers to write me and wonder if they would see him again. They did in PERFECT FALL.

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  6. Gwyn says:

    Nicely done! I hate cardboard, convenient SCs. Theirs are the hands that add definition to character and story on so many levels. As a result, I have to be careful mine don’t take over. I find them so much easier to write; the aren’t as constrained by story expectations as the MCs and can be quirkier or more sinister than a reader might accept from a protagonist.

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    • You know sometimes I find writing my secondary characters much easier too. Isn’t that funny. And so true the secondary can act out which readers might not accept from our H&H. Great point!

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  7. Darynda Jones says:

    I love this post so much, Di! I have to rein in my sidekicks sometimes so they don’t take over the story but, yes, they are SO important. I have readers who are bigger fans of my sidekicks than my MCs. It’s fascinating and not an outcome I strived for or expected.

    Just a great post!

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    • You’ve have a long running series, D. Did you find readers leaned toward the secondary characters more as the series went on?

      I don’t see anyone falling out of love with your H&H. If so, it was probably because you probably fleshed out your secondary characters so well.

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  8. Cynthia Huscroft says:

    Thanks so much, Autumn for this post…validates for me that my SC’s are worth keeping!

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  9. Addison Fox says:

    I LOVE this post!!! I’ve always found secondary characters so much fun to write. Their scenes always flow really well and it’s amazing how much these characters help to move the story along!

    Addison

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    • I agree Addison that writing scenes that involve just the secondary characters can be such fun. These scenes are an opportunity to thicken the plot and let readers in on secrets about the H & H. Thanks for brining that point up.

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  10. Really enjoyed this post and seeing the organization of secondary characters. Thanks, Autumn!

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  11. Michelle Parkins says:

    As a couple of people have said, my SCs are easier to write too. They can be off the wall and quirky and I used to keep my MC quite restrained until I realised how dull they were. They weren’t sensible, merely a poor imitation of real people and by allowing myself free reign with my SCs I hope I’ve achieved far more interesting characters all round

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    • Secondary characters can definitely help flesh out our main characters. They can reveal H&H secrets, ones they would never speak of, so our readers can understand why H&H act as they do.

      So glad you learned that tool.

      Thanks for adding to the conversation.

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