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