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Secondary Characters

Emma Walton Hamilton / Blog  / Secondary Characters

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.

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