Wednesday, June 25, 2008

13 Killer Suggestions for Creating Secondary Characters

13 Killer Suggestions for
Secondary Characters

This week we’re discussing secondary characters. Talia wrote an excellent post on reasons your stories should include them. Secondary characters can be enormously useful, providing humor, moving the plot along, and revealing the hero and heroine’s personality or history through interaction.
But it’s summer. Hot weather is here and you’ve just put your all into creating your main characters. In an effort to help you come up with killer secondary characters, I’d like to offer these 13 possibilities (One through six are gleaned from Leigh Micheal’s “On Writing Romance,” and 7-13 are collected from James N. Frey’s “The Key.”)

As with all the books from which I borrow information, I heartily recommend you give the original texts a read. They’re good references chocked full of helpful advice.

Thirteen Killer Suggestions for Creating Secondary Characters

1) The Significant Third. This person is almost a main character and usually supplies the source of conflict between the main characters. Often he or she is a child or dependent. Leigh Michael gives an example of a sick father that the heroine hires a nurse to care for.
2) The Villain
3) The Other Woman/ The Rival. She desires the prize – and is intent on claiming it before the heroine.
4) The Wrong Man. Although the heroine and reader know this guy isn’t “right” for the heroine, the Wrong Man doesn’t. He continues to pursue her, creating multiple problems.
5) Meddlesome Relatives
6) Best Friends. Well meaning or not, they often volunteer information that advances the plot.
7) A Magical Helper. This is the person who, like Q in the James Bond series, equips the heroine/hero for adventure.
8) The Wise One. This person gives advice, often wise counsel. She/he might be the best friend or even one of those meddlesome relatives.
9) The Trickster. This might be a con man or a fast talker. In the “Wizard of Oz,” this is the professor that Dorothy meets when she runs away from home.
10) The Fool. Usually in the beginning of the book, this character spouts nonsense and no one takes him or her seriously, but by the end of the tale this character surprisingly turns out to have unexpected wisdom.
11) The Shape-Shifter. This character doesn’t actually have to change shape. It’s really that he or she alters appearance within the tale. Cinderella is a shape-shifter. Within her home, she’s dressed in rags, but when she attends the prince’s ball, she looks like a princess.
12) The Crone. An old woman, she may be evil -- like the witch in “Snow White” --or she may be misunderstood like the Witch of the Wastes in “Howl’s Moving Castle.”

13) The Nymph. This character is a beautiful, young thing who may be a flirt, but doesn’t have to be. The childlike empress of Fantastica in “The Never-Ending Story,” seems to fit this classification.

Of course there are a lot more characters and archetypes you can write into your stories. More are mentioned in “The Key,” and “On Writing Romance” -- and I bet you have suggestions. Please share your favorite secondary characters. And tell us why.


  1. Clarence Kelland got a lot of mileage out of the "wrong man" or "wrong woman" character in his books. Happy TT.

  2. Great list! Secondary characters can add so much to the dynamics between the hero/heroine.

  3. I agree that secondary characters are vital. I love it when they take on a life of their own and demand to become a main character. That's how Trevor started.

  4. What a great list! Those characters really do add a lot to the plot, often without the reader even knowing!

    Happy TT :)

  5. I love this list, and Im really liking your site. You've inspired me to write a little for myself this afternoon, instead of for others.

    Thank you! I will be back. ;-)

  6. Interesting list. Now while I'm reading, I'm going to be trying to figure out which category each secondary character fits into.

  7. I love using best friends and relatives in my books - and, of course, villains. I may have to move out of my comfort zone and try a few different ones.

    Happy TT!

  8. Wow, great writing tips. Happy TT and thanks for stopping by mine.

  9. I always wondered about how good writers get their tricks...great pointers, from one who is better appreciating good writing than writing it herself.

  10. I love #3 because he (or she) can also reveal a lot about the "prize." Very thought provoding post. (thanks for visiting my TT)

  11. I never looked at the importance a secondary character plays...great TT.

  12. Great list. I like friends or quirky family members as secondary characters. They're so much fun to write.

  13. If you want good secondary characters I give you two series Black Dagger Brotherhood, and Johanna Lindsay's Mallory Brother series.

    I don't mean to toot my own horn, but my secondary characters in my recent release Fox's Bride are popular ... which shocks me.

    I love writing secondary characters. Love them :)

  14. Susan,
    I didn't know Trevor was a secondary character. Hmm.

  15. Interesting stuff. Happy TT and thanks for stopping by:)

  16. Five and six are true in life, too!

  17. Great TT! Lots of good suggestions here! ;)

  18. super late visiting from last week!

    I agree that secondary characters are very important, they kind of fill in all that other empty space, and a good one can make a story even better, and make the reader go, hey, I want another story about THAT one!

    put on the spot I have a hard time coming up with a particular secondary character, but off the top of my head, maybe Bob the Skull in Harry Dresden?

    Thanks for the visit last week!