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Creating Secondary Characters

Your main character, or protagonist is the most important, right? Yes, but your supporting characters also play a very important role. They are necessary to the story because they may reveal key details, help the protagonist, motivate the protagonist, or provide comic relief.

They add more depth to the story, and can sometimes be more popular than the main character. Some popular secondary characters even got their own spinoff. A secondary character is someone who plays a major role in your book, but the plot does not revolve around them.

Why do they matter?

A secondary character may come in the form of a mentor, offering wisdom to a character when they need it, a potential love interest, a work colleague, a friend, a relative, or a next door neighbour.

The secondary character almost always interacts with the protagonist in some way, be it through dialogue or a memory that the protagonist has of that person.

The secondary character is responsible for moving the story along. They may reveal a secret that the protagonist is yet to find out about. They may inspire the protagonist to do something heroic. They may be a bad influence, getting the protagonist into trouble.

They can be inconsequential to the plot or they can be the glue that holds everything together.

Creating the characters

  • Give them a defining characteristic. A unique quirk, unusual habit, or interesting look

  • Give them a unique voice or catch phrase

  • Introduce them twice. The first time, in passing, the second in the foreground. Here’s an example from my WIP tilted ‘Not Dead Yet’, where I introduce her annoying next door neighbour, Gertrude.

Prologue The sound of Gertrude’s high heels click clacking across the hallway towards her filled Mary with dread. ‘Mary. You can’t hide in here. People expect to talk to you. Don’t be rude. It’s not fair to all these people who have come to support you today. Now, come along.’

Chapter One Quietly reminiscing about their last trip to New Zealand, Mary’s state of bliss was rudely interrupted by Gertrude poking her nose over the fence. Gertrude was always poking her nose in somewhere it wasn’t wanted. ‘Morning Mary, lovely day, isn’t it?’ Jesus, for too many long years, I’ve put up with this nosy bitch of a woman. Forcing a smile, Mary responded, ‘Hi Gertrude, yes, it most certainly is.’

They had been neighbours for thirty-six years. Gertrude lost her husband five years before Mary lost Bob. Gertrude shamelessly threw herself at Bob. Well, any man really. This infuriated Mary. Gertrude had quite an infamous reputation at church. For thirty-odd years, the entire congregation had referred to her as ‘Flirty Gertie’.

Over the years, she had tried it on with the postman, the Minister’s brother, Gerald, the neighbour across the street, and the local barber. At seventy-eight, she was still chasing half the men in the neighbourhood. Mary did not know where she found the energy.

  • Give them a bit of a back story. Let your reader know what motivates them

  • Their primary role is to bring out the best in the protagonist, regardless of whether they’re inheritably good or bad

  • Avoid having too many characters, making it hard for the reader to keep track of who is who in the zoo

  • They need to have a role, maybe they have crucial information the protagonist is looking for. Maybe they serve as the voice of reason

  • Secondary characters should perceive the main story from another point of view. Through another lens so to speak

  • Delve a bit deeper by talking about their hopes and fears. If you tap into their emotions, your reader can connect to them on a more personal level

Some memorable secondary literary characters that come to mind include;

  • Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, Harry’s best friends from ‘The Harry Potter Series’

  • Phoebe, Holden’s younger sister from ‘The Catcher In the Rye’

  • Mrs Bennet, Elizabeth’s mother from ‘Pride and Prejudice’

  • And of course, my favourite, Mark Darcy from ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary’

So, remember these tips when creating your supporting characters. Your protagonist will thank you, and so will your readers.

'NOT DEAD YET' - Coming early 2022

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