Grace's Mosaic Moments

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Creating Secondary Characters

Now available - Boxed Set of my Aphrodite Academy series

A look at what I call the Regency Darkside. These novellas feature the stories of four young women from different backgrounds who have one thing in common: life has not been kind. The language of the books is frank and saucy—my only books marked "18+"—but the stories are driven by character and plot, not by sexual content. If you would like a peek at the other side of Regency sweetness and light while still having confidence in a Happily Ever After Ending, these might be the books for you.

For a link to The Aphrodite Academy Boxed Set, click here.

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Grace Note:  I sat down and scribbled off four pages of notes about Secondary Characters in less than a half an hour before I wrote Word One of this week's post,so I already know there will be more than one entry on this topic.

What is a Secondary Character?

Hmm - now that's a harder question than I thought. Many books have a single main character—the central figure in the story, male or female. Romances and many tales of Mystery and Suspense feature two main characters, a Hero and a Heroine. But that's it. Unless your story revolves around your Villain in a tale told primarily from the Villain's Point of View, that Villain is a Secondary Character. (Scrooge jumps to mind as a Villain who is a main character, although unlike most villains, he gets a Happily Ever After following his dramatic Comeuppance.) 

Needless to say, your Villain can be anyone, anywhere, his/her sins great or small. The variety of villains, the quantity and quality of their sins is limited only by your imagination. On a list of unusual Secondary Characters, you might include Nana, the St. Bernard in Peter Pan. Tinker Belle too, although I'm ambivalent about Moby Dick. The whale may get the book title—and one can't deny the story revolves around him—but I can't get my head around calling him the Main Character. By default, that makes him a Secondary Character. (Comments from those who disagree are welcome.)

Secondary Characters are frequently the most fun to write, as they are allowed more freedom in what they do and say. Minor faults are tolerated in Heroes and Heroines, but for the most part they must remain likable, sympathetic, people readers can root for. Secondary Characters, however, can have a multitude of sins or be true blue. (Some, like Hawk in Robert Parker's Spenser series, are both.) Secondary characters can be loyal, back-stabbing, supporting, snarky, overly talkative flibbertigebbets . . . or maybe a dragon. They  can be the Main Character's outspoken best buddy, the nasty person next door or at the office, the cliché of the nagging mother or mother-in-law, the little kid who puts a rock through the heroine's window. The list goes on ad infinitum. Two widely varying Secondary Characters come to mind: Mrs. Bennett from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and Tiny Tim from Dickens' A Christmas Carol. We all love Elizabeth and Darcy, but who do we remember, wincing, but Mama, who puts her foot in it every time she opens her mouth. And then there are Mr. Bennett, Elizabeth's sisters, and all the other characters drawn with a pen that bites. Pride and Prejudice overflows with marvelous Secondary Characters. No wonder it's survived the test of time.

Action/Suspense author Jack Higgins writes villains I find fascinating. They are always in-depth, even the most evil displaying love of family or other redeeming qualities. In fact, he made a Nazi submarine captain so appealing that after killing him off, he was forced to "resurrect" him for another book! And not too long after that, he took an Irish assassin and turned him into the long-running hero of an almost infinite series of books. Lindsay Buroker does something similar in her Emperor's Edge series, taking a young assassin with a very short role in Book 1 and turning him into the hero—well, anti-hero—of nearly all the remaining books in what turned out to be a very long series.

So yes, Secondary Characters can graduate to having their own books. WARNING: But do not let them shine so brightly when they're secondary that they overwhelm the Solo Protagonist or Hero and Heroine.

I've never had any interest in vampires and werewolves. Until, that is, I picked up the first book in Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate series. A gay vampire? Multiple gay vampires? On top of what has to be the most macho werewolf in the kingdom? And a Heroine without a Soul? I was hooked. And as if that weren't enough, as the series progresses, a highly effeminate vampire ends up as—oh horrors—a werewolf, eventually Alpha of the pack, and gets a touching love story of his own. Another Secondary Character making his mark. And I admit to succumbing to the temptation to make one of the characters in my Sci Fi Saga, Blue Moon Rising, a werewolf.

In Anne McCaffrey's lengthy Dragonriders of Pern series, the list of Secondary Characters is almost infinite, traveling back through the centuries as the series expands. I have always felt that the first books were the strongest, however, the ones where telepathic dragons are among the many striking secondary characters.

To wind up this week's post—primarily an introduction to how varied Secondary Characters can be—I offer Temeraire, from Naomi Novik's Alternative Napoleonic history, which includes a fighting (and talking) dragon. Although Temeraire would tell you he's not "secondary" to anyone!

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Next week: A few more examples, plus some generalities about what you have to keep in mind when "casting" your array of supporting players.

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