Secondary Characters, Not Second-Class Citizens

Secondary characters, sidekicks, petsI love that our older, established cat, Isabel, has taken so well to the newer, younger one, Jackson. It makes for a harmonious household and they’re good company for each other.

For Isabel, Jackson is her kittenish sidekick. He eggs her on to play more and follows her lead on mouse-hunting excursions to the garage. He is her admiring audience and sometimes irritant.

For Jackson, Isabel is his role model – the wise advisor and gatekeeper. She enjoys privileges he does not, but shares willingly with him.

For each of them, the other is a secondary character in their own heroic tale. Which is how it should be.

Secondary characters are all a matter of perspective, aren’t they? After all a good character is a well-rounded one. I heard that advice first from brilliant novelist and short-story writer, Ron Carlson. He said that every character should have a complete life before they walk on the page and go on to live a complete life after they leave the page – no matter how brief their appearance.

In fact, particularly in romance series, the secondary characters in one book might go on to be the heroes and heroines of their own books. For this reason, also, secondary characters should always be the main characters in their own journeys. They should never be there only to prop up the hero or heroine. You never know when the readers might demand that character’s story!

Readers – was there ever a secondary character you loved that did or didn’t get their own story? And writers – did you ever have a secondary character you ended up writing into their own story that you didn’t originally plan to?


Secondary Characters, Not Second-Class Citizens — 8 Comments

  1. I wrote the book that became Making the First Move as a stand-alone novel. However, by the time I’d finished the story, I knew I had to tell the story of the best friend character, Jamie Charles. When I pitched MtFM to Carina Press, I proposed a second book for Jamie, Love Me Not. The secondary characters in those two books have inspired stories for several other secondary characters.

    Love the advice about secondary characters have a life before and after their scenes. This makes those characters richer and sets them up for future stories.

  2. I love the advice about a secondary character needing to have a complete life before walking on the page. I hadn’t thought of it that way before but it’s very true. Secondary characters that are more than one-dimensional cardboard cut-outs are interesting and alive. And if they’re alive, hopefully the rest of the book is alive too!

  3. I think I’ve written some secondary characters whose stories could be told. For the most part, I like telling theirs as a subplot because my focus isn’t where it needs to be to write a series.

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