Developing Secondary Characters

sun on grass

Sometimes, novels can come up a bit short on the word count and when that happens, we can be tempted to plop in a few scenes or add a new character or two. While that may work, it can sometimes come across as choppy and not as if it was meant to be from the beginning. I found that instead of inventing new characters and adding scenes, a way to add a layer of depth to your story is through what is already there: secondary characters.

In my first drafts, I have an overall picture of what I am endeavoring to capture, but in the editing days that follow, I really dig into the story and start thinking about the why. Why did I add this scene/character? How does it move/enhance the story? We place secondary characters in our stories for a reason. They support our heroine in the good times and bad, so we should give them a little moment to let them shine!

4 Little Tips on Developing Secondary Heroes:

  1. Get to know them. What makes them tick? Give them a background story. It will help you develop how they will react to your main character and why.
  1. Make the hero/heroine notice them. Oftentimes, secondary characters move in the background and are used to move the story along, but does our hero ever pause and go beyond the obvious? Use the background information you jotted down and begin to develop a subplot for the secondary character. For more on how to develop a subplot, click here.
  1. Give them a personality and a skill. What are they good at? Maybe they have a particular skill the heroine does not. Make them unique, so they don’t get lost in the pages of the novel. (Nothing can drive me away from a book faster than there being too many characters and not enough distinction between them.)

Example: Think about The Hunger Games. There were so many characters, but Suzanne Collins did a fantastic job in making them each unique to help the reader remember them. Katniss has her bow, Peeta his strength, Johanna her axe, Finnick his trident etc. However, each has a defining trait as well, which gives the secondary characters even more layers.

  1. Do they support the main character? While you want to develop a secondary character’s story, you have to remember it’s not really their story. They are their to support the main character and if they start misbehaving and making the whole novel their own, well, it’s time to edit or reevaluate who’s story you are trying to capture. If they aren’t supporting the heroine, they may have to be cut or be given their own story.

Writer Beware: Too many secondary characters spoil the broth. Secondary characters can move the story along, but you must be careful not to add too many characters because it will take too much time away from the heroine and could cause the story to branch off in a way you never intended.

Annnd I’m off to a week of editing and developing secondary characters! Happy Writing!

About Grace Hitchcock

Grace Hitchcock's first novella, The Widow of St. Charles Avenue, released in Barbour Publishing’s The Second Chance Brides Collection August 2017. Her second novella will release in Barbour Publishing’s The Southern Belle Brides Collection in 2018. She has a Masters in Creative Writing and a Bachelor of Arts in English with a minor in History. Grace is a Louisiana Southerner living in Colorado with her husband, Dakota, and newborn son.

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