Primary characters: our leading ladies and alpha heroes, our partners in crime, our book friends and families – we love them. I always smile when readers talk about their book boyfriends or lament about missing characters; those are the signs of well-crafted characters, ones which resonate with readers and transcend the page. But secondary characters, whilst often not the reason a reader chooses one book over another, are sometimes exactly what’s needed to get a break from all the drama.
Primary characters have drama in excess. Their story arcs and character developments are in themselves enough to keep us reading long into the night and pondering the future. Yet in the same way that levity can make tragedy bearable, and colour can cancel out the endless depths of black or white, the support crew of these stories can be a breath of fresh air.
Are there any Harry Potter fans who failed to engage with the Weasleys? Did anyone skim over the sections about Hagrid, Lupin, Ginny or Neville? I doubt it. These characters add layers to an already complex plot, yes, but they are such cleverly crafted, multi-dimensional, wonderful and flawed additions to Harry’s life, that readers come to care about them because Harry cares about them.
Who can think of Pride and Prejudice without thinking of Bingley, Mrs Bennett and Lydia? Or Twilight without the Charlie and the Cullens? What about the fellowship in Tolkien’s epic Lord of the Rings? Personally, I couldn’t have spent too much more time with Froddo – I was more than happy, time and again, to be taken from that particular plight and dropped into another.
Having said that, there are some secondary characters who promote themselves. Who become such a source of fascination to us that they – or we – demand their share of the spotlight. A once-ordinary boy dragged into a world of Shadowhunters, downworlders and endless life or death situations comes to mind: Simon gets a lot of page time in Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments Series – almost his own book, following Clary’s dominance of the series prior. This was perhaps, in large part, because he became too damn interesting, and we had to know more.
As a writer, I’m familiar with secondary characters who won’t fall into line. In my title Ask Me to Stay, main characters Ethan and Sam were supported by a cast of characters who later came to claim their own titles. Ethan’s best friend Cal was ditched so fast, his ex didn’t even bother turning off the car engine – but Cal got another chance at love in Ask Me For More. And Ethan’s estranged brother, Dean, a widower and father of two young kids, dared to risk his heart again in Ask Me For Tomorrow. These were secondary characters who demanded to be more, and in doing so, changed places with others who had initially led the charge.
These secondary characters, the wind beneath the wings of the primaries who get mentioned in the back cover blurbs, will often work hard to elbow their way into your heart. I say let them. I can think of hundreds of books whose support crew made the stories stronger, even unforgettable. And just like in fiction, we crave similar support in our lives, from acquaintances, friends and allies.
So long live the secondary characters. May they forever distract, forever amuse, and at every turn, work to steal our hearts.
Ask Me to Stay blurb:
In Australian country towns, everyone knows everybody else’s business. Nothing is private, and escaping the past is difficult if not impossible. But how much of the truth does anyone ever really know, even about those closest to them?
When family tragedy brings Ethan Foster home, he doesn’t expect a warm welcome. In the small town of Hinterdown reputation is everything – and Ethan’s was ruined long ago. His family and friends don’t want him around, and nor does Sam O’Hara, the girl he left behind.
In this tender and heartwarming romantic trilogy, a funeral, a wedding, and a homecoming spark a series of events that prove that love can find a way, if only given a chance.
Includes the stories Ask Me to Stay, Ask Me for More and Ask Me for Tomorrow.
About the author:
Elise K. Ackers is a romantic suspense and contemporary romance author based in Melbourne, Australia. She is print and ebook published with Penguin’s Michael Joseph and Destiny Romance, and Harlequin’s Escape Publishing, a 2013 Romantic Book of the Year finalist, and known to do some pretty strange stuff in the name of research.