Friday, November 5, 2010

Secondary Characters - Side-Kicks, Friends/Family, and Recipes for Conflict Part I

I love witty or quirky or profound secondary characters. I love secondary characters that move me or make me laugh. Sure, we all want strong wonderful heroes and heroines but most of the time those main characters need a little help to get where they are going.

It wasn't until lately that I realized the importance of secondary characters and just what place they have in taking a book to that next level. Secondary characters fit into so many categories and serve so many purposes. To encourage the hero, to provide moral/spiritual support, to add humor, to help create conflict--secondary characters can sometimes even be antagonists. But all those roles serve a purpose, either to propel the plot, or to provide something for the main character.

So let's take a look at the categories secondary characters fit into.

The Side-Kick/Loyal Friend

These characters are the tag-alongs or the MC's right-hand man. These characters are there for their friend no matter what. They typically join the hero or heroine in their quest and want to be in the middle of the action. They support the hero no matter what their goal. Sometimes these characters can be pets.

The Spiritual/Moral Friend (also known as the Self-less Character)

These are characters, typically close friends or family, who see the good side of things. They see the good in the bad and often make the MC want to persevere. They operate by a spiritual or moral compass that guides them to give the MC advice or encouragement that will benefit them or benefit the greater good. These characters want what's best for the MC and are often willing to sacrifice for the hero or heroine.

The Well-Intentioned and Flawed Character

This character often provides tension release or humor. This character tends to help the hero or heroine in their own way, which can often lead to getting the hero into more trouble. Or it elicits more conflict for the MC, even if the character is well-intentioned. Through humor or quirkiness, they endear the reader and the MC but oftentimes they leap before they think.

The Antagonist

Sometimes antagonists are secondary characters. When they're used in this way, they appeal to readers in some form or another. This if often by showing some sort of redeeming characteristic or qualities that interest a reader--usually a personality trait, such as humor. These characters sometimes redeem themselves or end the story with a self-less act.

Secondary characters can often fit into more than one category and serve more than one purpose. But as long as they're serving a purpose, secondary characters can be a great and beneficial addition to novels. In Part II of this post, I'll be giving some movie examples of these types of characters to get a better feel for the importance of their roles.

How do you feel about secondary characters? Do you use them often and what sort of purpose do they serve?


Wendy Paine Miller said...

I just need to write that I am loving one of your secondary characters!!! So clever.

Yes, I use them and I make sure they hint toward and find ways to either motivate or hinder the MC from their goal.

~ Wendy

Sidney W. Frost said...

Excellent overview of secondary characters. I think it helps to have someone for the protagonist to talk to at times. This provides more realism for the reader. I created sidekicks who were quite different from the main character, and had to be careful not to make them more interesting in doing so. Even so, I’ve had several readers ask me what happens to so and so (secondary character). She deserves to find some happiness, one reader said.

One of my supporting characters in Where Love Once Lived was so real in my head, I included her in my next book, not yet published.

Reesha said...

I totally agree.
Actually, the part I look forward to writing in my books the most are often the secondary characters. Like you said, they're so versatile.
Whenever my main character gets too intense, confusing, or stalled, I like to use secondary characters as distraction for the reader. Kind of like misdirection in a magic show. They make the story feel more real and full than it otherwise would appear to be.

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Wendy, thank you! What a sweet compliment. Yes, you've got it just right! Use secondary characters as a way to motivate MC's or hinder the MC from making their goal. Perfect.

Sidney, isn't that the fun part about secondary characters? They can become as real to us as the main character and sometimes it's hard to leave them behind when the book is over. That's a great compliment that a reader asked you about one of your secondary characters--they connected with that character and that's a wonderful thing.

Reesha, I like that you said they make the story feel more real and full. You are so right. Secondary characters can make the story deeper and readers are able to connect to it on more levels because of those characters. Thanks for stopping by!

Jill said...

Secondary characters are very important, in my opinion. Having stereotypical ones can destroy a book. I mean that. And there's plenty of published books with stereotypical secondary characters that make me frustrated and annoyed.

Julia M. Reffner said...

I think my sidekick might be my favorite character so far (also the spiritual/moral friend), perhaps even more than the protagonist.

Great post!

Jennifer Shirk said...

I LOVE to use secondary characters too! Sometimes for comedic purposes or plot purposes but sometimes to make the hero or heroine look better to the reader.

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Jill, you're so right that unique characters can truly benefit a book. If we can find ways to avoid the cliches, there's so much that can come from secondary characters.

Julia, isn't that strange how that happens? Sometimes those characters make the best MC's for other books :)

Jennifer, secondary characters definitely serve multiple purposes. That's a great way to use them, to make the hero or heroine appeal to the reader. Thanks for stopping by!