Thursday, May 8, 2014

Secondary Characters

Debra shares what she learned from Kristan Higgins about secondary characters.

I love secondary characters. My first book had two important ones that eventually became the heroes of their own books. A secondary cast of characters definitely rounds out your story. At Spring Fling a couple weekends ago, I attended a workshop given by one of our headliners, Kristan Higgins. Here are some of the highlights I took away from the sectional.

Secondary characters can get away with things the main character(s) can't.

They might demonstrate the attributes and flaws of the main character(s).

There are several types of secondary characters:
best friend
These types of characters need to matter to the story and shouldn't just be shoved in.

You need to know when to amp up their role (prop up a sagging middle, a break from the main plotline, bring in a new set of problems) in the story and/or when to kill them (all hope must be lost, bad guy needs more power, tender-hearted drama, shock value).

There are dos and don'ts when creating them:
Don't let them over-shadow the main character(s).
Do let them balance the main character(s).
Do give them oppositional goals.
Do make them multi-dimensional.
Do make them memorable.
Limit their numbers.

Secondary plotlines need to reflect the overall theme of the book. They don't have to be tied up with a bow. They should resolve before the main plotline is wrapped up. In a series they become a hint for the next book.

When writing a series, don't put characters in just because you intend to write their book 'someday'. Don't give them scenes just so readers can revisit main characters from other books. Do give them scenes that are important to the story.

Until next time,

Happy Reading!



  1. Great information. I am starting to grasp the roles that secondary characters can play to support the main character.
    Interestingly, antagonists can have "henchmen.

  2. I tend to use my secondary characters for 'fun'. I'm going to have to start delving into their roles a bit more intensely.

  3. Excellent points, Debra. I think there are different levels of secondary characters. Some characters very definitely have a 'supporting' role, either supporting (or antagonising) the main character/s in some way at different points of the story. I think there are also others who have an 'incidental' role, but even they should contribute in some way to the story at some point, and shouldn't just be named for the sake of it!

  4. Great pointers. Sounds like it was a terrific class. I use a variety of secondary characters--I agree with Paula's classifications. Not sure I do it well enough, though.