Secondary Characters
Today's lesson, Chapter 10 in the Writing the Breakout Novel, is on Secondary Characters.

Hands down this is one of the most important points of a novel to me. People can write about their main character all day long. They have things happen to him/her that push them to be the best they can. But people often forget about the secondary characters. Not saying people don't have them in their story, but the characters aren't real. You can't connect with them. They're only in there to fulfill one role. They come in, do their business, added to the plot without us readers knowing why, and exit.

Like many plots, there are cliche secondary characters. Examples:

  • The master that helps the young hero learn everything about whatever. Only to die in a "heart felt" way where the hero MUST continue.
  • The best friend/sister to a romance heroine that is there only for advice and matchmaking. Yet never needs any herself.
  • The damsel in distress. What the hell is amazing about a woman who can't save her own ass here and there?
  • Dead/missing/I'm-completely-out-of-your-life parents.
  • Bitchy popular girls that want to ruin everyone's reputation/hot guy that is willing to get down on the "ugly ducklings" level.
  • There's always the one side-kick that can't do shit that is only there for comic relief.
Secondary characters can be the most vibrant and active in a manuscript. They can also be lifeless and cardboard -- mere prop-ups for the hero.

Remember all the elements we've been talking about? Time to make sure you put them to use again. In order to have depth with each of your secondary characters, do the following:
Write down a defining quality of the character. When does he/she show the opposite quality? When does this character have inner conflict? How do you show it? Write down things this character would never think/say/do. Now make them do it. Show growth.

Question of the Day:

Can you give an example of bringing life to your secondary character?

I decided to chose Hank Jager since he's is one of the secondary characters I never planned on using. It wasn't until the second book that he appeared.

When we first encounter Hank, he's locked away in the basement of an insane asylum. As his straight jacket becomes undone, Bryce notices he's got scars all over his body. The man literally seems insane.

Who would've guess that Hank Jager once went by the name of Hugues de Payens, the man that helped create the Knight's Templar. As a former Knight, you assume he'll be chivalrous, kind, heavily religious. When in fact, after living through all the years he's seen, Hank is bitter, harsh, and doesn't seem to have a religious bone in his body.

As the reader grows to learn more about Hank Jager, they realize he's been living with one horror none of us wish to burden. He is in love with the devil. Not the type of lust you would assume. His wife that he was married to for years was consumed by the hatred and evil of the devil. So for hundreds of years, he roamed the Earth following only her. Protecting her. Hoping that one day their love would conquer all. He was constantly at battle whether he should help her or kill her. And finally when Bryce comes giving him the chance to face the love of his life, Hank makes the decision to free his love of this evil.

As you can tell, this tough boy isn't the sentimental type. Sure, he has a weakness. All in all, you'd never expect this man being the one to give you advice. To help you through your darkest moment. To cry. To put a sword against his wife. He does all of this, and for that, Mr. Hank Jager has become a real person. A real character. Even if he wasn't planned to be one.
2 Responses
  1. Glen Akin Says:
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  2. Glen Akin Says:

    Wow. I want to read more about Hank. He actually sounds a lot more interesting than your MC lol but I'm sure your MC has got an interesting story as well. But, to be in love with a woman like Hank's wife, and for Hank to go through all that? That's really deep, and very moving

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