The care and feeding of secondary characters
Where would Gatsby without Daisy? Or Scarlett without Melanie? How could Harry have managed without Ron and Hermione? What if Hamlet had taken Polonius’ good advice?
Secondary characters. There’s no story without them, but I think too many of us don’t give them the limelight they deserve.
I’m thinking a lot about my supporting cast these days as I work on my novel rewrite. Lucky for me, Amy Sue Nathan devoted a post to the topic during her Thirty Days of Writing Advice series in April.
Amy’s got the month-long series archived, so check it out.
I’m calling out Amy’s terrific advice on how to treat secondary characters, and why it matters. That’s how much I like it.
TWO TIPS FOR SECONDARY CHARACTERS
Your secondary characters need love too, and they need to be as carefully created as your main character — just don’t tell her.
My two biggest tips for creating engaging secondary characters are:
Each secondary character must have her own arc.
To me, this means, a little story of their own going on — a subplot if you will, a storyline. Each must have her own beginning, middle, end. That character doesn’t know she’s in someone else’s story!! But…
Each secondary character must to serve the main character’s story.
EVERYTHING in your novel helps to drive the main story forward, even a secondary character’s personal storyline. Ask yourself HOW it does this to make sure, but more importantly ask yourself WHY.
This is something hard to do but easy to check. Go back through your manuscript or outline and focus on your main secondary characters (not the townspeople, as I call them). Note what she’s doing in a scene — why is she there? How is her own story being furthered? How is it impacting the protagonist and the main storyline?