Friday, November 19, 2010

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

Welcome to Friday everyone! I want to continue talking about secondary characters today, and discuss what they can do for your novels. In Part I of this post, I explained the four types of secondary characters and their importance to stories. Today, I'm going to review the categories and give a few movie examples of the categories to show the kind of dimension they can add to fiction.

Our first category was The Side-Kick/Loyal Friend. As we established before, these secondary characters are the tag-alongs or the MC's right-hand man. These characters are there for their friend no matter what. They often join the hero in their quest and want to be in the middle of the action. Sometimes these characters can be pets.

For example, D'Artagnan from The Three Musketeers. He's loyal and with the Musketeers no matter what. He won't give up and therefore propels the story with his fearless endeavor to do right.

Also, Marley (the dog) from Marley and Me. Another loyal character that acts as the MC's good friend. Marley's loyalty and penchant for action moves the plot forward and helps to make for a great story.

The Spiritual/Moral Friend (also known as the Self-less Friend) are characters, typically 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 the greater good. These characters want what's best for the MC and are often willing to sacrifice for the hero or heroine.

Beth in Little Women fits well in this category. She's a strong secondary character that has a great impact on Jo with her optimistic outlook and unwavering friendship.

Also, the MC's good friend and lieutenant in the fire department from the movie Fireproof. He provides crucial spiritual guidance that helps the MC toward the positive outcome of the story.

As far as The Well-Intentioned and Flawed Friend, this character often provides tension release or humor. This character tends to help the hero in ways that gets them into more trouble or elicits more conflict even if they're well-intentioned. Through humor or quirkiness, they endear the reader and the MC but often times they leap before they think.

Two examples of this are the brother, Jonathan, from The Mummy and the MC's friend, Riley, from National Treasure. They're both one of the good guys. One is endlessly causing more trouble for the MC's but he's well-intentioned. The other provides much humor, endears those watching and propels the plot with his knowledge or sometimes lack thereof.

Finally, there's The Antagonist. Sometimes antagonists are secondary characters. When they're used in that capacity, they appeal to readers in some way. This is 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 selfless act.

For example, Tommy Lee Jones' character from The Fugitive can be considered the antagonist. He's against the protagonist, doesn't care much about who killed the protagonist's wife in the beginning, but he changes throughout the movie.

Another strong antagonist example is Ben Wade, gun-slinger and wanted for murder, from the movie 3:10 to Yuma. He's clearly the bad guy but he has redeeming characteristics, like respectfulness and high esteem for good manners. And by the end, he further redeems himself with a selfless act.

As you can see, these characters might fit into more than one category. But the important thing about them is that they add depth and dimension to a story--something that is important for fiction. They encourage, lend humor or move the MC forward spiritually, even act against the antagonist, in order to progress the plot.

Secondary characters can be powerful additions to your novel and help to present it in a more unique way. Do you give a lot of thought to secondary characters before you add them in your novel? Do any of your secondary characters fit into these categories?


Sarah Forgrave said...

I was just thinking as I read through this list that I have a secondary character who fits in the first two categories. I think combining some of these into one person is a great idea to add dimension to the story. Great post as always, Cindy!

Jennifer Shirk said...

I do give thought to secondary characters. I feel as my writing grows, I am paying more attention to them and how they affect my MC.
Great post!

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Sarah, I think a lot of secondary characters probably fit into more than one category but using traits from one or more than one is, as you said, a great way to add dimension to a story. Have a great weekend!

Jennifer, it's interesting how much more we pay attention to different aspects of our writing as we grow, isn't it? I guess it's all about eventually getting our MC's to the end of the story, even if it means hindering them on the way :) or, hopefully giving them a friend that will help them get there.