QOTW: Secondary/Supporting Characters

8 Apr

How should one go about building secondary/supporting characters? Is it too distracting if they have their own story lines? Can an MC’s best friend be caught in a love triangle even if that isn’t the focus of the novel?

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I think secondary characters should definitely have their own story lines! This is especially true if they’re relatively important secondary characters. After all, most writers aspire to make all their characters, not just their main character, seem realistic and well-rounded. Real people change and grow (the real-life version of a “story line”!), so it only makes sense that secondary characters should as well! Of course, not every little character you bring to life is going to get the spotlight, but I think a MC’s best friend can definitely be caught in a love triangle even if it isn’t the focus of the novel! On the other hand, I do think that any story lines that are given a certain amount of focus (and by that I mean much more than a mention) ought to affect the main character or the main story line in some way. For example, if the main story line is the MC aspiring to reach a goal and the secondary character’s story line is a love affair with character B, then perhaps the secondary character’s relationship with B will be what convinces B to help the MC in some way.

Of course, the effect doesn’t have to be this big or obvious. The secondary character’s story line might just affect the MC emotionally or even teach her a lesson. But it shouldn’t just hang in the story unrelated to anything else.

-Kat Zhang

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I hate it in books when the secondary characters exist just to show that the MC is ‘normal’, or has other relationships in their life. If your secondary character isn’t important to the plot, and doesn’t undergo some sort of growth or transformation, what’s the point of having them around?

For really significant secondary characters, you need to flesh them out like you would a main character. They need motivations, likes, dislikes, and desires. Then there’s the ‘gun on the table’ principal: I love it in stories when information is relayed about secondary characters in the beginning, then we don’t see them in the middle, and at the end that information comes back and is significant to the main plot. I’ve been watching the SAW series lately, and if you’ve seen even a few of the movies you’ll know what I’m talking about. Characters you think unimportant are actually incredibly significant to the main plot line, even if they aren’t MCs.

Harry Potter is another great example of non-MCs significantly influencing the story, but I’m sure I don’t have to give you any specific examples of that 🙂

-Savannah J. Foley

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How do you go about developing your Secondary Characters?

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3 Responses to “QOTW: Secondary/Supporting Characters”

  1. gabriellan April 8, 2011 at 12:18 AM #

    I’m glad someone asked this question. I’ve been thinking about it lately because of the rewrite I’m currently in, and I was wondering just how much of the life stories of the supporting characters needed to be told. This post helps a lot 🙂

  2. authorguy April 8, 2011 at 6:25 AM #

    I discover my secondary characters the way I discover all the others, by turning around and BAM! There they are. I find them when I story says it needs a character here, so they always serve a purpose. Half the fun of writing the book is finding out other things about them after that.

  3. Ellen April 8, 2011 at 11:52 AM #

    I completely agree with authorguy. That’s usually how my secondary characters come about as well. However, I’m usually a pretty character driven writer, so watching the secondaries start to flesh themselves out on their own is always really fun. I go into a story knowing a lot about my protagonist, so learning about my secondary characters is often more surprising, and sometimes more fun!

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