Friday, March 18, 2016

Secondary Characters? Secondary in Name Only.

Secondary characters have many functions in stories. Often, my secondary characters have surprised me, indeed, they have gobsmacked me. Who are some of my favorite secondary characters in my own works? In other books?  Read on.
In my first novels, I didn't understand about plotting, and the stories underwent much critiquing and rewriting as I tried to make them good.  One of the (many) things I had t learn was to go deep into each character if he/she  appeared multiple times.  
In The Shadow Warriors, my first published novel, there was a "bad guy" named Stephan, a secondary character.  Truth be told, I modeled his physical appearance and even some of his personality on a co-worker whom I didn't like. He didn't like me, either.  We exasperated each other.  Then, we were thrown together on an important corporate committee.  Not only did we see each other daily, but we had to work together.  Familiarity bred__not more dislike but understanding.  I would never say friendship, but I learned where he was coming from.  We started to like each other.  Just a little.  And as like grew, the Stephan in The Shadow Warriors became more complex, and at the book's end, he did a magnanimous act.  It helps to know your characters. 

Festival Madness, my Burning Man novel has a lot of zany characters. Sometimes, when I need to get a character from point A to point B I'll have something happen en route, something important to the story, which can mean a new character, but the reader doesn't know that the person will be important. Sometimes I, the writer, don't know how important that character will become.  When the protagonist, Emma, is driving from Reno, NV to the Burning Man Festival in the Black Rock Desert, she stops by Pyramid Lake to enjoy the scenery.  (It is spectacular.)  Someone nearby is having car trouble, and Emma asks is she can help.  She is astonished and a little rattled when she sees this person closeup.  It is a man?  A woman?  It is Daze, soon to be Daisy, a man undergoing a change of gender.  Right away I liked Daze and his/her sense of humor.  I even bought a book by a woman who had changed her gender.  Daze became, while still a secondary character, important to the plot of the book. And she emerged as a full blown personality from that one encounter seen looking under the hood of her  (glittered encrusted) car. 

Festival Madness is free on the Amazon Kindle from March 18 - March 22nd.  Catch Festival Madness!

The novel I'm currently working on, Promiscuous Mode, (a computer term) has a character, a female Episcopal priest called Reverend Josie, who is modeled on a good friend of mine from college.   She was always eccentric, and when I introduced the character (as a distraction for waiting for another character to appear), I didn't know it was my friend, I just knew I was describing her garb.  Suddenly, she appeared again in the story, and then again. With her French phrases, her odd  speech and her all black wardrobe, she stood out among the somewhat bland corporate types.   My friend died during the writing of the book, and if /when it's published, I'll dedicate it to her.  Writing about her was almost like reliving our friendship, as we seldom saw each other after college.   

An anecdote from college days: I stopped by my friend's dorm room so that we could walk to our gym class--all the way across the campus and usually a total bore. She was reading Epicurus and began reading aloud.  Suddenly we had a bottle of vodka, and after each saying of Epicurus, we'd shout, "I'll drink to that," and swig the vodka.  We left for gym class (finally) and probably staggered all the way.  I remember hysterical laughter.  It was so like her.  Crazy but fun. We had a wild time at a party in the Adolphus Hotel before a Cotton Bowl. 
I never do outrageous stuff like that anymore, and sometimes, I wish I did.   

What other authors have secondary characters I like?  Old Toby in Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria Quartet.  Rat, in the Easy Rawlins stories of Walter Mosley, and Maria Bolkonskaya in War and Peace.  So different all, and yet all so memorable.  

Who is YOUR favorite secondary character?  My fellow bloggers will surely have a lot to say on the subject.  Give them a read. 

Anne Stenhouse
Skye Taylor
Beverley Bateman
Connie Vines
Victoria Chatham
Helena Fairfax
Marci Baun
Rachael Kosinski
Hollie Glover
Dr. Bob Rich
Rhobin Courtright


  1. Fun experiences you shared! It is interesting to discover how so many great secondary characters are developed. Enjoyed your post.

  2. Sounds like your books have a lot of great secondary characters.
    Interesting post.

  3. Just downloaded Festival Madness. Can't wait to read about such an interesting supporting character!

    I think our characters are the most well-rounded and developed when they're based, at least partly, on someone we've known in real-life. Of course I have to tell friends who ask me to write them into one of my books, that the process doesn't work like that. But bits and pieces of some I've known are in them. And like you, when I pattern a character after someone, I dedicate the book to that tell him/her.

  4. Judith, I have heard so much about the Burning Man Festival from a couple who have been there several years in a row and love it. I thought it would make a good setting for a story, glad you wrote one!

  5. Hi Judith, that's a really interesting story about your co-worker. Anne Stenhouse

  6. Fiona,

    I went to your web site, and I think you will like Festival Madness! Please let me know what you think.



Your comments are always welcome!