Okay, so we’re writing and there are lots of other characters and they are there because…why? Secondary characters can be one of the places we start to stumble once we start writing, so I want to give you a few quick rules to help you get started crafting your secondary characters.
Here are what I considered my Commandments for Secondary Characters! Don’t worry, there are only four.
1. They have a Character Spine
Your secondary characters should have a Character Spine. That is, they should have a lack in their life that they are pursuing, even if it isn’t the focal point. This should become clear to readers as the story progresses and ideally should provide some kind of counterpoint to the main character’s spine.
2. They serve a storytelling purpose in relation to the plot
Remember when we discussed the Hero’s Journey way back in the plotting classes? Well, there are also character archetypes that go along with that! Understanding the purpose of your secondary character in a story will help you to ensure that you don’t have too many characters fulfilling the same roles, and can ensure that there is a sense of distinction within the story. That being said, be conservative in the number of points of view you deploy in your stories. Too many can make the narrative feel chaotic and disorganized, pulling the reader from the story every time the point of view changes once more.
Also, here is a fun video on character archetypes:
3. They are flawed and distinct
Ever read a book where every single character feels kind of the same? One of the ways secondary characters can work a little harder and a little better is by having different perspectives on the world. That means unique ways of speaking, different flaws and strengths, etc.
4. They have a complicated relationship with the main character
Remember a lifetime ago when I said conflict pushes a plot forward? Relationships, even healthy ones, are full of that natural push/pull of conflicting agendas and miscommunication, and can be a great source of storytelling material to push your plot forward.
Each of these elements could be an entire lesson (and we will come back to this in the far future) but for your boot camp purposes these are the least you should be thinking of while crafting your scenes.
Look at one or two of your secondary characters and answer the following questions:
1. What is their Character Spine? What do they want because of that?
2. Where are the scenes in your outline that same character moves the plot forward?
3. How does this character help or hinder the main character and vice versa?