The use of Secondary Characters:
I’m important too!!
So, I’m sitting here at my husband’s office, mulling over today’s blog, and the front desk guy (a friend named Jim) asks me, of course, what I’m writing about:
Me: The Use of Secondary Characters in a book.
Him: Or misuse. (he’s an avid reader).
Me: (because I haven’t had my coffee yet…) Huh?
Him: Well, think about it, just the name: Secondary Character. How would you like to be called a Secondary Character? They’re important, too!
He’s brilliant! And right! See, secondary characters are key to a great story. Think of Watson, to Sherlock Holmes. And Danny Glover to Mel Gibson (sorry to bring him up, but again, I’m needing coffee), and how about um…Bert and Ernie? (okay, I’m really hitting the bottom here.) Oh! Harry Potter and Ron Weasley! And Barney Fife to Andy Griffith? Laverne and Shirley? And, Holy Sidekicks, how about Batman and Robin?
(I’m running to get coffee right now).
The point is…a great character, and a great story is enhanced by great secondary characters.
Who is in your world? We are, in large part, defied by the people we allow into our lives, the people we chose to spend time with, listen to, allow to influence us, and even challenge us. These people help us grow, (even if we make mistakes with them!) and teach more about ourselves, our world, our faith.
Secondary characters in novel act the same way. Rachel Hauck wrote an excellent article about secondary characters in the spring issue of the MBT Voices Ezine, and with her permission, I’m going to use some of her points here as a starting place. And by the way, the NEW issue is JUST OUT!! Check it out at: http://voicesmag.mybooktherapy.com. It’s fabulous!
“Secondary Characters are critical to every story. Through their eyes, we see the hero and heroine from different angles. Even if a SC is not a point-of-view (POV) character, his or her dialog and action can round out the story and the protagonist.”
I’m not going to rehash all the great things Rachel said about Secondary Characters – here, however is a short list of the benefits of secondary characters:
Secondary Characters widen the story
Secondary Characters trigger backstory
Secondary Characters supply humor
Secondary Character can be setting
Secondary Characters reveal the protagonist’s character
All these are true! And, I want to add: Secondary characters enhance the THEME of the story.
More than just people who give the protagonist someone to chat with, they can act as truth tellers or even catalysts to change in the character’s journey. They are, in short, Voices of either Reason or Passion.
What is a voice of Reason or Passion?
The Voice of Passion lives in my house. She’s dressed like my teenage daughter (on any given day that might be a pair of jeans, topped with a skirt, with a tank top under a short sleeved sweatshirt, and a pair of what my husband calls her Wonder Woman arm protectors). Now, to be fair, my daughter has long moments of what I call sanity, where Reason prevails, when I can convince her that no, her brothers aren’t trying to drive her crazy, even though they insist on leaving the bathroom…well, you know.
And then there are the moments when Passion takes over. When, despite our best efforts, life is simply too much, when she must play her music at the top of the allowed decibel levels, when, to put it into GreySpeak, she has to dance it out. In that Passion moment, the inner wild thing must be heard and set free, if only briefly. Only then can she breathe deeply, restore her sanity.
Sadly, or perhaps comfortingly, I see so much of myself in her. So, I know, someday, this too shall pass. (Or not, according to my husband).
So, the point is, we all have two sides to ourselves…a Voice of Reason, and a Voice of Passion. They people we are when we are sane (Reason) and when we’re…well, without coffee (Passion). All my characters, when I develop them, have said voices, and I use them in various plot points throughout the book. But the fun part is that SECONDARY characters are a great way to to illustrate the THEME of the story by making them either a Voice of Reason or a Voice of Passion. Two sides of the character, lived out, so to speak.
For example…let’s say our theme is forgiveness, like in my book Happily Ever After. My hero Joe is grappling with forgiveness and doesn’t know how to forgive someone for something that happened to him. He has a brother who acts as a voice of REASON, the voice that has perspective and grace and found the right answer.
Also in the story is a villain, someone who is out to sabotage my heroine, Mona. The villain is acting out of unforgiveness, and his anger is causing him to lose his morals, and eventually his freedom. Hmm….sounds like the Voice of Passion to me.
Another example is…and here I go again, but the Hunt for Red October. The central character in the theme is Jack Ryan…and the theme is loyalty and trust. Of course, our voice of REASON is Sean Connery, who has looked at his life and this silent war and decided to aim for the US Eastern Seaboard. And, in the end, he decides to trust someone he’s never met. The voice of PASSION is the OTHER Russian sub commander, who decides NOT to trust his own countrymen, and in fact kill them. (which of course, makes perfect sense, if you’re a Russian sub commander). But its two sides to the same theme…how much should you trust someone?
How do you incorporate the Voice of Reason and the Voice of Passion in a book?
1. Start with your theme – what are the two extremes that could be played out? Revenge verses Acceptance? Betrayal versus Loyalty.
2. What would it look like to act out those two extremes in your story?
3. WHO could play those roles? (look at family members, community, friends, even setting)
4. How could they influence your character to either:
a. Identify with them?
b. Reject them?
(Ideally, both moments should be in the story, even as a way to show the character: what if…?)
The Voice of Reason often pops up during Act 2, as a Truth Teller. The Voice of Passion often shows up either at the very beginning, as a part of the home world, or inciting incident, OR, it shows up near the black moment – perhaps before or after, as a glimpse of how things could/have gone terribly wrong.
Do you have secondary characters in your stories? Are you using them as a Voice of Reason or Passion?
The Voice of Reason and the Voice of Passion are great ways to utilize your Secondary characters. Look for ways you can accentuate the theme, give it different points of view, and then apply them to your secondary characters. Suddenly, they’ll have their own voice and meaning on the page. And you’ll have made them not a Secondary Character…but a Significant Character. (Do you like that better, Jim?)
Let’s talk about our Secondary Characters! Head over to: www.mybooktherapy.ning.com and let your Voice be heard!
And don’t forget to sign up for the MBT Pizza Party at the ACFW Conference. (sign up at: http://www.mybooktherapy.com/index2.php/pizza-party/)
And, if you would like intensive, hands-on help in building your story from idea to plot, you may want to consider the Storycrafter’s Retreat – October 29-31, Minneapolis MN. Find out more here: http://storycrafters.mybooktherapy.com
Have a great week!