To sort of continue with yesterday’s prompt for Talking Tuesday, I thought I’d ‘talk’ about two of my favorite secondary characters.
Secondary characters have several different roles and are as important as the hero and heroine but often we ‘writers’ tend to skim over their development. While some secondary characters do remain in the shadows, those that don’t need as much development as the hero and heroine, they should also be given a reason for being in this WIP. I don’t need to know about the cashier at Burger King unless he/she is going to impact
Two of my favorite secondary characters to use as full developed examples are from the movie Robin Hood ~ Prince of Thieves. (I’ve taught two different workshops on secondary characters – on one line and the other as part of a conference and I use these two – if you haven’t watched this movie and struggle with secondary characters, I suggest you do because truly they are great examples. I’ve also used Harry Potter but because it’s a series the secondary characters change and shift.)
Azeem and Will Scarlet are INCREDBILE secondary characters…
Azeem is fully developed right from the start.
1) We know why he is with Robin. You can’t just drop a secondary character into your story and have him/her impact the main character without a reason. Few of us would run out and take on a dangerous mission because the lady we talked to in the bread aisle of the grocery store told us to. So you need to ask yourself why would my hero or heroine do what this character suggests???
2) He’s a secondary character with GMC.
G ~ He wants Robin to accept the responsibility for what he started.
M ~ He has seen people like the sheriff destroy those he cared about
C ~ Those he wants to help aren’t open to his assistance (the birth of Little John’s son)
3) While he pushes Robin to the next level, he also offers some humor. So he’s not only a loyal side-kick (who else would fly through the air with you but your loyal side-kick?) He holds up a mirror for Robin to look at himself.
Will Scarlet steps out of the shadows and slams Robin with a bolt of lightening!
1) While we aren’t sure why he hates Robin, the bitterness of it lets us know there has to be something there. Secondary characters don’t need to bare all like the hero or heroine BUT we should have some clue to what their GMC. Azeem just hints to his love interest, we don’t get the entire history of them (how long they were together, etc.) just enough to understand Azeem’s behavior. Timing is EVERYTHING in revealing a secondary character’s secrets. When Will reveals that he’s Robin’s half-brother, it’s later in the movie because it isn’t until then that Robin would have acted as he did. Robin needed to grow before this secret could have the impact it did. Again, timing is everything.
2) Will doesn’t charm his way into our hearts. We think he’s a jerk until we learn his GMC. Then he proves himself as much of a stand-up guy as Azeem and Robin. The only reason he can move from the jerk box to the good guy box is because his conflict with Robin explains his behavior AND he hadn’t really done anything bad besides being rude to Robin. If you have a secondary character that lurks in the shadows and throws hate darts at the hero or heroine remember if you want them to change teams the reason has to be believable and the damage they did cannot be unforgivable.
So these are my two favorite examples of awesome secondary characters… but I’d love to hear yours as a reader or a writer.