A secondary character is someone who plays an important part in your story but the plot doesn’t revolve around them. They are there for a reason, to help create conflict, develop your main character, or move your plot along. The story wouldn’t be complete without them. Although secondary characters aren’t in the spotlight as much as the main characters, they still need to be developed into fully-formed, believable characters.
I have put together some articles and podcasts that I think are useful to consider when developing your secondary characters.
Secondary characters hold a vital role. They either develop the lead character, create conflict, or help to define the plot. This article gives tips for you to consider when developing your secondary characters, including building a backstory, giving them autonomy, and creating a distinct identity. It defines 4 types of secondary characters: dynamic, static, round, and flat.
Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaid’s Tale, shares 8 tips on writing supporting characters. She advises making a character chart, noting information such as their age and world events that might be relevant to them. Making your characters interesting is important. They don’t need to be likeable, but they must be interesting. She recommends you aim to create a character that directly abets or stymies the protagonist’s goal but in a way that doesn’t necessarily conform to a worn-out archetype. Surprise your characters with unpredictable supporting characters – find ways to subvert your readers’ expectations about what secondary characters do in a novel.
This article says that by giving your secondary character a backstory you will be writing a much more believable character who has dimension. It suggests that you create a list of virtues and negatives for each secondary character. Don’t create too many secondary characters and maybe think about tying them to one location. Having a particular character only appearing at specific locations will make it easier for your reader to remember who is who.
Secondary characters must serve a purpose. Kristen shares ways that supporting characters can serve powerful purposes including how their words, action, and backstory can deepen the discussion of a theme; they can reveal or highlight elements of the protagonist’s characterisation, often by serving as a foil. They can further reveal elements of the story’s world-building.
Supporting characters should influence your main character and the story in a significant way. This article shares 3 ways to develop supporting characters including, giving them independent goals, and letting them represent some aspect of the story.
Ruth Atkinson presents 5 archetype ways that secondary characters can interact with the protagonist. They can be the antagonist, best friend, love interest, mentor, and fool.
A secondary character is necessary for the story. In some way, they’re essential to the progression of the story. Even though there are two types of secondary characters – major and minor, both types need a backstory, autonomy, a distinct name, to create conflict and to be relatable. Major secondary characters also need to develop the story and world. This podcast gives detailed examples of secondary characters from fiction.
You can listen to or read this great podcast/ blog. If we want to immerse our readers in a world that feels as rich and compelling as our own, Savannah Gilbo says that our supporting cast of characters needs to shine. Each supporting character provides an opportunity for conflict, aid, or both. She shares 3 tips: develop them just as fully as your protagonist; give your character a hook to help make them stand out, and let them represent an aspect of the overarching story.
Main characters need strong secondary characters to grow and remain compelling to readers. In this podcast, Marisa explains why secondary characters are so important, and she describes the different types of secondary characters.
Daniel Poppie gives the listener a strategy to use when writing side characters.
Secondary characters provide context to your story but even secondary characters have to want something, they need their own story and their own story arc. They can be fun to create, it’s important to keep in mind a hook to make them stand out. As Margaret says ‘Surprise your characters with unpredictable supporting characters.’
I hope this week’s column has been helpful for you. As always, please get in touch if there are any topics you would like me to cover.
(c) Lucy O’Callaghan