I read a great post the other day at Writer Unboxed about secondary characters and their importance within the construct of the story. You should go check it out, but the gist of it is that to get the most of our secondary characters, they should function as more than just a filler for all of the things that the hero and heroine cannot do. They are more than just the comic relief, the evil stepsisters, or the catalyst to keep the conflict hurtling toward our story’s black moment.
And isn’t that the truth? Our secondary characters are sometimes more of a challenge than the main characters. It can be so damn hard to bring them to life, but not allow them to steal the spotlight from the hero and heroine and turn the story around on us.
So how do we make the most of the secondary men and women that we have created? In one respect, I say go ahead and give them all the benefits and drawbacks of a hero/heroine. Make them as lifelike and interesting as you can. Give them just as many quirks, just as much emotional baggage, as much motivation and conflict—but keep it to yourself. Use your manuscript to let little hints of the characters bleed through, because that can only add to the vibrancy of your work.
But when you’re really fleshing out these secondary characters, do it on a blank page that you save separate from the MS. Get it all out of your system and write the book you need to write. Then, if your story lends itself to the possibility, leave the door open for a sequel to showcase that devastatingly handsome but ruthless mobster who toyed with the affections of your heroine and came this close to getting the best of your hero, and give him his chance at redemption and a happy ever after of his very own. (Um…you know what I mean.)
Now that I’ve said that, who are your favourite secondary characters? Did they end up with their own books later down the line, and did the book measure up to what you had imagined for them when they walked onto that first page as a sidekick or villain? Or was the reality of their transformation into a hero/heroine disappointing?