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Monday, April 30, 2018

Don't Forget Those Secondary Characters by Suzanne Rossi

Hi everyone.

Well, the sun is shining, the temperature is forecast to be in the mid-upper 70s, and I'm chipper. Guess winter is finally a thing of the past.

It's also that time of year when I get the urge to read new authors. I'm always on the lookout for a good summer read and love seeing new blood enter the writing world. Unfortunately, sometimes I come away with a flat feeling. Something just didn't click. Maybe the plot was predictable or contrived. Occasionally, the hero or the heroine aren't logical with their actions. But more often than not, the problem lies with secondary characters.

Now unless your main characters are on a desert island or in the middle of the Sahara or the wilderness of the Northwest Territories, they have to have other characters with which to interact. There are three types of characters in a book--the hero and heroine, individuals the aforementioned talk with on a regular basis, and what I call walk-ons--people like waiters, bartenders, and the like that show up once and are then gone.

The hero and the heroine need backstory, but so do the secondary characters. They need personalities, goals, motivation, and conflict, too. And of course, they must appear frequently in the story. Their lot in life could be anything from a best friend to a sibling or other family member to a person the main character trusts. Since I write romantic suspense, my secondary characters are often villains and villainesses. In my first book, Along Came Quinn, I had four secondary characters--a couple of guides the MCs interacted with on a daily basis, and a villain and villainess who don't do that until the end of the story. However, their previous actions formed the inciting incident that threw the hero and the heroine into the story. Am I making sense?

However, authors must make sure the secondary character remains secondary. Don't give them so much personality or too big a role in the story that they take over the book. I experienced that in The Reunion. I loved my secondary character, Suzanne. She was a total be-yotch. Snarky, sarcastic, and defensive. Yet in the end, she learned humility.

Not only did she have backstory that set the stage for what happens in the book, I gave her a strong personality to go along with it. She dominated. It got to the point where she was more interesting than the heroine, which allowed the romance angle to also get lost. With so much Suzanne, there wasn't a good way to let Meghan and Zach's relationship grow.

So, I had to do what every writer hates. Edit. A lot. I cut whole scenes and tons of dialogue that featured Suzanne. I toned down her personality and her bitchiness, which seemed to work. The book got some very good reviews and I had a few people suggest I give her a shot at being the heroine in another book. Haven't gotten around to doing that yet.

Actually, I love writing secondary characters. In my Snoop Group series I have a critique group that solves mysteries. My main character is level-headed and a leader. But I have so much fun with the rest of the women. I tried to make them realistic to my friends' personalities, so one of them is a bit sarcastic and impatient. She doesn't suffer fools gladly and speaks her mind. Another is on the ditzy side, but somehow comes up with solutions to problems through her rambling conversations, and still another is constantly frazzled trying to raise five kids under the age of eight, do household chores, and write erotic romance. Sound familiar? Who doesn't know people like that?

So the next time you pick up a book, pay attention to the secondary characters. Do they make you laugh? Do they supply an important flip-side, so to speak, to the heroine or hero? Does the logical heroine learn something from her ditzy friend? Something she hadn't thought about with all her focus on logic? Ask the same questions of these characters as you write if you are an author.

Hope you enjoyed this today and have come away with some insight into characterizations. I've been a member of this blog for two years and love writing for it. So until next month, have a nice Spring.



  1. In one of my earlier books, I almost let the secondary characters take over. We have to walk a fine line, don't we? Great post, Suzanne.

  2. Thanks, Caroline. Sometimes I have more fun writing those secondary characters than I do the hero/heroine.


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