Sometimes secondary characters are complicated. They can be anything from pasty, cardboard characters to complete scene-stealers. I have had both of these pop up in my writing, along with everything in between. So are there any rules to govern these illusive people? Is there a guide line for us to follow?
In Kathleen Duey’s workshop (see last week’s blog) she talked about these tricky people. Once-in-a-while she’ll have a secondary character enter a story and steal the show. She gave the example of a man supposedly passing by along the street. He came around the corner with a hunch back and a limp. All eyes in the scene turned to him, so she had to cut him. Probably more common is the best friend of the protagonist that is so funny or so emotional or so needy that he or she steals the show from the main character. Kathleen’s solution to this dilemma is to make a deal with this character to give them a work of their own in the future, if they’ll behave in this setting. (She says it works.)
One of the writers in our critique group is finishing a middle-grade novel. The brother of the protagonist is the cutest, funniest boy you would ever want to meet. He comes up with belly-laughing lines that stop the show. Kids will identify with him immediately. The writer has to be careful that he doesn’t steal the show.
Kathleen gave several guidelines for writers to follow so this doesn’t happen. Secondary characters are to:
1. expose the protagonist;
2. explain the protagonist and his predicament;
3. deepen the protagonist’s character.
Good guidelines for me to follow. Check out the secondary characters in your stories. Do they follow these rules? Maybe there are others? Let me know what you think?