Secondary characters are my fatal flaw. Or maybe not ‘fatal’ flaw. I have a whole host of flaws raring to go, jostling in line to see which one gets to trip me up next. Right now, it’s this.
See, the dilemma of secondary characters is obvious from the name. They’re secondary – out of focus, not the most important, not major. It’s easy to brush past them.
Then we hit a snag – the second word. They’re still characters. Their secondary status may mean that they’re not narrators or heroes, but they’re not filler like the minor parts either. They need to have personalities, quirks, and objectives of their own.
This is where I trip up. I’m preoccupied with the main characters. Their epic battles, quests for identity, etc. are what I’m concerned by. Who cares if the kid who runs interference has dreams too?
They need to be fleshed out though. Hollow secondary characters are like poorly painted backdrops in a play. If you’re caught up in the story, they look ok. Once you start paying attention, though, you realize how flat and washed out the story-world is. It’s fake.
I am very guilty of this. My secondary characters only show up when the plot demands. They pretty much disappear when they’re not in my main characters’ lives. It’s annoying, it’s wrong, and it’s something I need to pay more attention to.
The best way I’ve found to address this problem is to pull secondary characters into the limelight. I’ll rewrite – or just re-imagine – a scene or a day in their shoes. While my main character is off getting herself killed, what is this secondary character doing? What do they want? How do they feel about being dragged into the thorny entanglements of my plot? It’s not their story, after all. Doing this helps me figure out how to treat these characters, and sometimes it opens up fun new plot threads.
So what’s your current pet peeve? How do you handle it?