I should have entitled this the week of ‘Character’, or perhaps the week I fell in love with a novel.

Yes, I am quoting WildLives again, but I only do so because I think Proulx writes something crucial.

On my post, WildLives I mentioned a character who is a script writer. Here, we are inside her head:

“Claire paid particular attention to her secondary characters, for secondary characters don’t know they’re secondary characters.”

Well, well. How true! In the girlie flick, The Holiday, with Cameron Diaz and Jude Law, Kate Winslet’s character is told by a script writer that in her life story she has to play leading lady and not the secondary one.

I thought about this; do my secondary lead their own leading roles? Yes, they do, of course they do! Yet, do I know their complete story?

In Wildlives, Proulx goes on, through Claire’s eyes:

“What she liked about secondary characters was their status as ordinary people, exposed to the cuts of time’s knife without protection, without luxurious rewards.”

Hmm. Yes, my secondary are disposable, in the sense that I do not need to protect them from their own story. Ordinary? Yes, I suppose, but less so than my main characters? Well, in Claire’s story, she says she is lucky, as all her characters are secondary. I think this is the way to go, even in genre fiction, even if your MC is Superman, because even Superman responded like an every day kind ofย  man to Lois. I believe this is part of the key to having a believable character.

But, the question remains, do I know the whole story of my secondary characters? Do I want to know it? Would I then be forced to write a novel through their eyes, and tell the story that way?

This post is full of questions that I ask myself, so here is one for you:

How well do you know your secondary characters?

21 thoughts on “More!

  1. I don’t write character sketches for my secondary characters, but I do think about their lives outside the parts they play in the novel.Otherwise, I fear I will write them as one dimensional.

  2. That’s a great insight: secondary characters don’t know they’re secondary. It makes me feel great compassion for mine!

    I didn’t know them as well in the first draft of this novel, but found I had to go back and get acquainted when some scenes weren’t working.

    Someone told me Joyce Carol Oates writes every scene from every scene character’s point of view. Wow.

    1. My first novel alternates pov between all the characters, Cathryn. There were a few sideplayers, and they served specific purposes. It was great fun to get to know them all!

  3. Great question… I tend to get long winded on description, so I shy away from full on descriptions regarding secondary characters… I do see the value of fleshing them out better… I’ve been surprised sometimes by responses or questions about some of my secondary characters… like: Hey I love this person, what’s her story?

    LOL. What? She *has* no story, she’s just my comic relief! So yeah… it makes me think I could be better here.

    1. Hello April, and a long delayed welcome!

      In the novel I am currently writing, I did not know the husband at all. As times passes, I had to learn why he went from a loving husband to a distracted man. Why he felt loyalty to the wrong things. I knew these things about him, but I didn’t know the cause of them. Understanding him, brought a new reality to his interactions with my MC, and brought about a new sympathy from me towards him.

  4. This was a thought-provoking post – thank you! ๐Ÿ™‚ In the several month break I took between first and second draft, I dug into the lives of my secondary characters and now feel I know them as well as my primary ones.

    This is a blessing and a curse; like you wrote, do I want to know their stories? Now, I feel I could write six different novels depending on whose perspective I chose. Fortunately, this has resulted in stronger subplots and explaining (to me) some of the holes I had in the main plot. When a character has their two seconds to shine, I know they have just been off living their own primary story for someone else to see. The two seconds they get in this novel, therefore, is consistent with whatever else they’ve been doing behind the scenes.

    1. Did you leave your novel aside for several months on purpose owl and sparrow? Was it to give you space from it?

      thanks for your response! What I find amazing sometimes, is finding something I like in a character I had complete disdain for!

      1. Well, it was partially on purpose. After I wrote the draft, I took a few weeks off before re-reading. The next month or two after that, I worked my way through the plot to see if all my characters’ motivations lined up with their personalities. When I found they didn’t, and some things were out of place, it led to a lot of time spent discovering my characters (which changed some of the plot and sub-plots, naturally). That took up a bit of time between the drafts.

        Then, starting in April, I set it aside and let the changes sink in while I did other things. We had soooo many weddings to go to this summer – about six of them, most of them relatives and close friends. I found it hard to focus on anything, so I decided to be okay with the break, then come back strong and refreshed on my second draft. Though the break wasn’t wholly purposeful, I do think it helped me to see everything with fresh eyes and communicate more clearly.

      2. Thanks for sharing that owl and sparrow!
        I am trying to decide if I will take a break between the end of my first draft and first edit. I think not. I am not ready for a break from it yet; and I wrote the beginnings a year ago – it’s old stuff already! But, I do believe it will be necessary on a future draft.

  5. Forgive me for having Disney thoughts, but that’s all my daughter watches, that and Nickeolodian. It’s on right now, so therefore will be my one-dimensional character target.

    It seems all the secondary characters are just a prop. Miley’s friend Lilly on Hannah Montana is there only for the banter. We really don’t know her or her life. Same with I-Carly, That’s So Raven and pretty much all the rest. If a secondary character on a sitcom is done well they can usually branch off onto their own show.

    That’s how I’d like my characters to be: so good they could star in their own book.

    P.S. For the record, I think Miley’s brother, Jackson, should get more air time or his own show.

    P.S.S. Perhaps I should lay off the Disney channel for awhile, at least until I can have adult conversations again.

    1. HI, Tricia!

      Let us see, in my household the primary shows are Max and Ruby, Little Bear, George Shrinks, Dora, you get the idea! We’re still not quite at hannah Montana, or even sponge bob.

      Do you find it a struggle to keep your characters as secondary ones? Or they struggle for their own show?

  6. I’m not sure on this….I think the primary characters need to be well sketched out, but not neccesarily the secondary ones. If all the characters are rounded and developed, then it might become too much for the reader. Concentrate on three pimary characters and leave it there. Just my thought.

  7. I immediately ordered this book when you quoted the opening lines in a post on my blog. It’s sitting right beside me on my desk now as I read this post. I’m in the middle of two other books, but I can’t wait to start this one. Thanks for letting me know about it!

  8. I have to know as much about my secondary characters as I do my main characters. I won’t share one tenth of that information in my novel, but think about this: if I want my secondary character to be seen as a unique individual and not a cardboard cut-out, won’t that individual have their own speech patterns? Won’t their observations and how they see events be different from my main characters? These are tiny clues, but clues nonetheless, and those clues go to the overall believablity of my novel as a whole.

    That’s what I do, anyway. ๐Ÿ˜‰


  9. Oh no. I don’t think I know my secondary characters at all. I hadn’t really considered getting to know them, to be honest. Back to the drawing board then.

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