Saturday, May 27th, 2017

Secondary Characters

Whether your manuscript is a picture book or novel, it can be tempting to create a wide variety of supporting characters to help tell your story.  But too many characters can be hard for young readers to keep track of, and can dilute the focus.  So how do you decide which secondary characters to keep? Keep these tips in mind:

* All characters should be multi-dimensional, authentic, believable and interesting to young readers – even if they’re bad guys.

* All characters should have a role to play in relationship to your main character. Whether they are a catalyst, a foil, a mentor, an antagonist, a challenger, a sidekick, the voice of reason, a tempter, or something else, they must serve a purpose in relationship to your hero’s journey.

* All characters must be in pursuit of something: a want, or a need, or a goal. They should also have to make their own choices to pursue that want or need.

* Consider whether or how the story would change without them. If you removed this character from the story, would it affect the course of events one way or another? If not, they should probably go.

* Secondary characters should also learn something or grow by the end of the story. They need to have journeys of their own. For example, in Where the Wild Things Are, the secondary character is Max’s mother (even though we never actually “see” her, she has a huge influence on the story and on Max’s journey, and is a presence nonetheless.)  We know Max grows and changes by the end, but Max’s mother does, too… because she delivers dinner to his room after she’s promised that he’s going to go to bed with no supper. We can infer from this that she has softened and forgiven him.  We want all our supporting characters to have the same kind of journey.

Comments

4 Responses to “Secondary Characters”
  1. Such helpful information! It’s so easy to just let the secondary characters be cardboard cutouts — thank you for the reminder that they need their own journey, their own needs, and their own transformation process (although it won’t be as major as the protagonist’s). I’m learning to do this, I can see progress from when I first started writing, but I know I still have work to do!

  2. Sandie Sing says:

    Thank you for empowering beginning writers such as me, with great information such as this. Rewrite, read, rewrite, read, rewrite, and read over and over will help make me decide which of my secondary characters make presence in the story or be dumped. I like your check list.

  3. Love the new blog look! And, I enjoyed your thoughts about secondary characters! Always helpful.

  4. Emma says:

    Thanks so much, Pat, Sandie and Beth! Glad you found the post helpful! 🙂

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