Secondary But Not Second in Our Hearts

Secondary characters are one of our favourite parts of writing a story. Our heroes have to have certain arcs, they have to have personalities and quirks and flaws that fall within certain boundaries because they would be grating or cloying or unbelievable otherwise. With secondary characters who move the plot along, who are the mirrors to the protagonists, who provide advice—for better or for worse—we can really let go. We can even include those characters from our own lives who are a little too colourful for the main role but who are so real that people even email us to say “I know someone like that but I’ve never seen them in a book before!”

One Real Thing by Anah Crow and Dianne FoxIn One Real Thing, the characters Julie and Danner are a married couple who provide Holly with work and with the support system that he needs to keep clear of bad influences. It’s their genuine affection for him that allows him to be the person Nick needs when life gets rough. We even considered telling their story but, the truth is, they are secondary characters through and through.

Danner in particular is almost too perfect to be a hero in one of our romances. A delightful golden boy with a huge heart and a nearly empty head—it seems, he’s actually smarter than he lets on—Danner is an entire sports and entertainment franchise packed into one man. Snow boarder, mountain climber, skate boarder, and extreme sports enthusiast all at once, there’s little Danner puts his mind to that he doesn’t achieve. And he genuinely loves the people in his life, starting with his tiny, driven, beautiful wife and manager, Julie. The two of them adopt Holly into their little family to be Danner’s playmate and the company’s PR man. They help hold Holly together and give him the room he needs to make his relationship work with Nick.

Drive Into Love by Anah Crow and Dianne FoxDrive Into Love has its own special secondary characters. Jess Leonard, one of our protagonists, has an entire family around him already when he meets Benaiah Day. We love writing families and this was no exception. Jess has two young children—Lily and Jamie—as well as his supportive mother and father who help him raise the kids in the notable absence of his ex-wife. Family can be quite the stumbling block for a relationship, deliberately or not, but we like to temper that a little when we can, leave the worst conflicts outside the home.

Lily and Jaime are great kids, even if they are a hell of a handbrake on Jess’ love life. It’s never boring to write kids, especially siblings with all the love and squabbles that come with them. And we wish everyone could have parents like Jess. They’re far from perfect, their own relationship has had its share of ups and downs, but when their son gets outed and dumped with two small kids to raise, they put it all aside to be there for him. Mom babysits between her own work shifts, Dad takes the kids to sports practices so Jess can have a little time alone once in a while. There’s no question about accepting their gay son, even in a small conservative town.

Secondary characters are more than just part of the setting around the characters. Secondary characters are there for tone and for contrast, for support and motivation. They can be the way the authors speak without making a story ‘preachy’ or unrealistic. They can also be antagonists and trouble-makers and that kind deserve a post all their own because they’re just as important. After the last page, as much as we want people to love our protagonists, we want them to remember our secondary characters for the way those characters made them feel at home in our stories.

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