Secondary Characters: An Important Tool in a Writer’s Toolkit

This article is by AE Jones.

Mind Sweeper coverOne of the hardest jobs for a writer is to pull a reader into their story. I mean, really, really suck them in until they think of the story as a world they can escape to and revel in for hours.

And how do writers do this successfully?

By creating characters that are relatable. Characters that we think of as our friend or our enemy.

Heroes and heroines are the lifeblood of the story. And in romance, the play between these two needs to be magnetic and evocative. Evocative in the sense of stirring emotions. As readers we want to cheer the couple on when they’re together and smack the snot out of them when they’re being obstinate fools.

But since we, as readers, can’t actually physically enter the story, we need to rely on the help of someone else to cheer and smack them in our place.

So who can we turn to? Why secondary characters, of course.

More than a Walk-On Role

Secondary characters should not be relegated to simple walk-on roles. They add value by making the main characters react. And in reacting, we glean info about them.

Don’t we learn more about the heroine from her quirky best friend who pushes her to love again after she has been burnt one too many times?

Or the hero’s free-spirited brother who tells his older, stodgy sibling to stop ignoring his feelings and go for it?

Putting Secondary Characters to Work

In the case of my series, Mind Sweeper, my heroine, Kyle, is a tough nut to crack. She is sarcastic and as prickly as a porcupine. And when she meets Dalton, her quills stand straight up. The relationship can’t be rainbows and puppy dogs right out of the gate after all. But when Kyle is with her teammates, Jean Luc, a ridiculously sexy vampire, and Misha, an over-the-top demon, the reader gets a peek of the soft side of Kyle.

Only Jean Luc can tell her she is beautiful and not get slugged. And his use of French terms of endearment when she is stressed, clues us in to the fact that Kyle is not as tough as she seems. And then there is Misha who Kyle buys pastries for every day even though she grumbles while doing it. He plays the role of de-facto overbearing brother well. And that is another important clue to who Kyle is. Because if these secondary characters want to protect Kyle, then it comes to reason that she is worth protecting. That she is more than a damaged woman who doesn’t know where she fits in. Jean Luc and Misha are her family. A dysfunctional family that, minus the fangs and glowing eyes, we can relate to. Isn’t it true that seeing how someone interacts with their family helps us to understand who they really are?

And let’s not forget the antagonist in this scenario. How Kyle responds to the big bad guy gives the reader someone to root for.

A True Glimpse

Yes, a good story is about the interactions between the two main characters, but if the only thing the reader sees is how the heroine reacts to the hero, then I would argue we aren’t getting a true glimpse of what she is made of.

She is not just a lover. She can be a friend, sister, mother, grandmother, athlete, business woman, artist, fighter…the list goes on.

And the telling of the story through the interactions between all the characters provides the reader with someone who is multifaceted.

And that’s what makes characters relatable.

About the Author:

AE Jones is the author of Mind Sweeper, winner of the 2013 RWA Golden Heart Award for Paranormal Romance. She lives in Ohio with her eclectic family and friends who in no way resembles any characters in her books. Honest. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter, and visit her blog at aejonesauthor.com.

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Lorinda J. Taylor
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Lorinda J. Taylor

Secondary characters are important in my books, too. My heroine’s mentor, Prf. A’a’ma, in The Termite Queen gives us a different perspective on what is happening (he happens to be an alien – a big bird). And Kaitrin’s mother and the sister of the hero both play an extremely important role, especially after Kaitrin is devastated by a loss. In my Ki’shto’ba series – well, our Champion has 12 Companions before the series is finished, and every single one of them plays a signifiant part in the plot.

AE Jones
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AE Jones

Lorinda –
It is amazing how much power a secondary character has, right? It is definitely not something that should be taken lightly. I think about what my characters can add throughout the book. Sometimes very small characters have the most important messages to tell the readers.
Thanks for commenting!
AE

William Cramer
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William Cramer

I use secondary characters to motivate my coming of age heroine to follow her music ability, to encourage her to study the dragon Corp, and how to rear the baby dragon she stumbled on during pipping and hatching.
They are not main characters, but they are not extras either. They are the supporting cast of the book, that keep the main characters going towards their goal or are part of the obstacle that keeps them from getting to the goal. Secondary character villians happen too.

AE Jones
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AE Jones

William –
Absolutely! Your story sounds great and I agree about the villains too! Sometimes the villains are the best way to really show us what your hero or heroine is made of.
Thanks for commenting!
AE

Sandra Owens
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Sandra Owens

AE, can’t wait to read Mind Sweeper. I love when secondary characters show up in a story, and you’re right, they do give clues to your main characters. I wish you huge sales on your debut novel.

Don’t put me in for the drawing because I’m going to buy the book! 🙂

AE Jones
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AE Jones

Sandy –

Thanks for stopping by and wishing huge sales 😉
I love secondary characters. They can often get away with things that the main characters can’t and they are an AWESOME way to add humor as well.

AE

Barb Heintz
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Barb Heintz

Nice post AE. I’ve always believed that secondary characters are important to a story. In my WIP my heroine has a male friend that is almost everything the heroine needs. A date, a brother, a shoulder to cry on or her protector. Everything except the love of her life – he’s gay.

AE Jones
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AE Jones

It’s funny, Barb, but I have a tendency to write male friends for my heroines too. There is something about the play between them that makes it interesting.

Thanks for visiting!
AE

Gail Hart
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Gail Hart

Congrats on your debut release, AE!

Similar to Kyle, the heroine in my book released on Monday, Katie, starts out rather prickly. She’s all business, until her kooky best friend, Amanda, helps convince her to listen less to her head and more to her heart.

Gail

AE Jones
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AE Jones

Right – friends are always a great way to shed light on the hero or heroine. Gives them someone to bounce things off of and let the reader know about their past.
Thanks for stopping by!
AE

Becky Lower
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Becky Lower

Nice post, Amy. I especially like it when secondary characters spin off into their own book. There are so many examples of this and why not? The author’s spent time creating these characters and fleshing them out. All that hard work should not go away simply because “the end” has been written.

AE Jones
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AE Jones

Absolutely Becky! I love series just for that reason. I fall in love with the secondary characters and then LOVE it when their own story is told. It pulls me in every time!
AE

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