By Suzanne Rossi
Wow, it's hard to believe the end of October is here already. I've heard it said that the older you get, the faster the time goes. Must be right. Whew.
Today, I'd like to talk about secondary characters in a book. They're just as important as the hero and heroine to our stories. They can be a best friend, a relative, a troublemaker, or anybody with whom the main characters interact. Sometimes, it's easy to just mention them in passing, but I like to flesh them out.
In several of my books, I've even gone to the extent of giving them a back story. For instance, in my first book, Along Came Quinn, the villains, Rod and Victoria, had their own distinct personalities and motives. I delved into this deeper in the sequel, A Tangled Web. I set up Victoria to have redeeming qualities. She hated being a con artist, but knew no other way of life--until she met the hero. Her scheming brother, Rod, however, was never going to learn, yet I liked writing him.
All in the Family is a mob story with the heroine a mafia princess working for the Feds. The hero is a jaded, former undercover FBI agent who is also her handler. The secondary characters in this story are the son of a mafia don, a hood, and a stripper named Bubbles LaRue. I think I had the most fun with her. She had a back story straight out of the backwoods, and considered herself a rags-to-riches kind of gal.
Occasionally, I write several secondary characters. Giving all of them a history would slow the pace to a crawl and put the reader to sleep. So, I concentrate on one or two. In The Reunion, I put Dave Coryell and Suzanne Wayland Crocker front and center. I loved writing Suzanne. She was a total bitch, yet I liked her. In fact, I liked her so much, she almost took over the story. About two-thirds of the way through the first draft, I realized I needed to tone her down, so the heroine could shine. To this day, I think she's my favorite.
In my soon to be released book, The Assassin, the heroine's mother, Priscilla, not only had a back story, but if left to my own devices, would have become the heroine in another novel. I had close to ten pages of information dreamed up about her childhood, her marriages, divorces, and all the baggage that goes with it.
And of course, no novel, especially romantic suspense, would be complete without the secondary character who's the killer. Now they are fun to write, but I have to be careful not to divulge too much too soon or the reader will figure it out in chapter four. I generally leave a lot of the back story to the end after he or she has been caught. It's a bit like Hercule Poirot explaining how and why to his amazed audience in Agatha Christie books. However, I love Agatha Christie and Hercule Poirot, so I use it.
I've also discovered that the setting of the story can be as much of a character as any person. A cruise ship, a tropical isle, a big city, a small town in Indiana, as long as the writer can make the reader feel like they are there, then it's a character. I try to use places I've lived in or visited to make them sound more believable. Many of my stories are set in the Memphis, Tennessee, or South Florida locales. I've called those two places home for most of my life.
The next time you pick up a book give special attention to those secondary characters. Like 'em or hate 'em, they are part of what makes the story and keeps you coming back for more.
Have a great day and I'll see you in November.