Posts tagged with: Secondary characters

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.




“I’m Important!” she yelled.

Secondary characters are characters who are not considered crucial for the main plot line but contribute to the plot or subplots within a story. How many novels have you read that only have a hero and heroine? Unless the two are on a deserted island, there are usually a few more inhabitants wandering around, providing your main characters with people to strategize with, vent to, or reveal past baggage and motivation to. It is often more interesting for the heroine to talk with a friend and deal with their reactions than for her to just think something while staring in a mirror.

Our stories need secondary characters, or at least that’s what they think. Remember – to a secondary character, the story is all about them, not the hero and heroine. They want to be interesting or funny or evil or special. They must possess quirks and hobbies and dislikes to become real.

Right now I’m incorporating my editor’s comments on my latest manuscript. One of my secondary characters is fading into the background too much and is in jeopardy of being cut from the story. Ahh! He can’t be cut! He’s the hero of the third book so he needs to be introduced in this book and he needs to be much more interesting. I have to dig into his background and motivations to create a three-dimensional person.

So where do we find inspiration for secondary characters? They are simply everywhere! Neighbors, family members, arch enemies from high school – fabulous secondary characters surround us. I have a neighbor who irons every single piece of clothing her family wears, even underwear. Her kids can’t run in the house at all because they could get hurt and her house is beyond spotless. What cool details. She could easily be a great secondary character with a need to control her surroundings. Hmmm…she could do all sorts of things to interfere with the primary characters while thinking that she is just helping them out.

I dated a guy in college who owned a red sports car. I thought for certain he would drive fast, but he always drove 5-10 mph under the speed limit. Made me crazy! What was his motivation? Had he been in a crash as a child? Did he just get the hot car to attract girls since he was insecure? He wasn’t interesting enough to be a hero, but he’d make a great secondary character.

By using real life characters in your books you avoid the trap of writing clichés. The bitchy cheerleader, the nerdy bookworm, and the crazy cat lady shouldn’t show up unless they aren’t at all what they seem to be.

So as you go about writing, don’t just throw in a two-dimensional neighbor next door for your heroine to vent to or a bland best friend to give your hero a ride. Give them substance, quirks, motivation. Because if you ask them, they are the ones that make the story shine. And I have to agree with them. : )

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