Sunday, February 12, 2012

Naughty or Nice?

Asking this question implies that a character, or a plot, will be one-dimensional. Flat. Maybe boring.

Supporting characters can be naughty or nice. The fumble-fingered side-kick. The dotty neighbor. The all-wise grandfather. The ultra-brave (or super-silly) maidservant. The sell-out brother-in-law. A Dr. Watson. Their role is not to be more interesting than the lead.

A romance is constructed around the main characters, and how they change so they can have a happily-ever-after.

I didn’t discover my first heroine’s depth until I was writing the second to last chapter. She’d just returned to her family’s South Dakota ranch after she’d summoned the inner strength to escape from her kidnappers and collapse in the arms of her lover, who’d turned heaven and earth inside out to be in the exact right place to catch her.

I thought I’d resolved all the subplots, and all that was left was to reunite them for their HEA. And I was unable to script that path. She could plausibly morph into a stoic spinster. She couldn’t say oops and rush back to him without hurling off some pillar principles.

Then a secondary character demanded his due. He found my heroine in the loft of the barn. She was sitting where she and the hero had first made love, where the hero had given her a ring (and meant it), and where he’d had to confess that the ring was bought for another woman.

The secondary character revealed a secret that filled the core void in her identity. She learned her mother had been naughty as well as nice. Her mother had loved him as much as the man the heroine believed was her father. He explained that love has many forms of expression, and although she wasn’t the hero’s first love, she could be his forever love. If she accepted he had a complicated naughty, but nice past.


  1. You've made a very good point that the supporting characters shouldn't be more interesting than the main ones. However, nice ones can help our heroes and heroines; naughty ones can hinder them. As you say, sometimes they can be both naughty AND nice. I've also had supporting characters who appeared to be nice, but turned out not to be so, and vice-versa!

  2. The turncoat secondary characters would have to be villians, wouldn't they?

  3. Richard McGarry in His Leading Lady certainly was!

  4. Ana,

    Oooh. This is a very thought-provoking post. Nicely done.

    I've used secondary characters to help 'tie things up' for the hero and heroine. Sometimes just a little bit of advice from an outside person can help resolve those last pesky issues and set the hero and heroine on their path to happily ever after.

  5. Yes! Secondary characters can do so much.

  6. You're right, naughty or nice implies one dimension. However, I don't agree that secondary characters should be one dimensional so that they don't overshadow the hero/heroine. I agree they shouldn't overshadow, but I think if they're in the story to begin with, they have to have importance or the reader won't care about them. If they are too one-dimensional, the reader may think they're stupid, and if you use your secondary characters to further your plot or to provide conflict, they may inadvertently weaken your conflict. You obviously don't want them to be more interesting than your hero/heroine, but they should give at least a hint of multi-dimensionality, in my opinion. Good post!

  7. I think it depends on how important the secondary characters are to the plot and/or the relationship between the h/h. Which makes me think there's a world of difference between 'minor' characters and 'supporting' (or non-supporting!) characters.