Monday, June 23, 2008

Basic Types of Secondary Characters

We've addressed heroes and heroines, and this biweek at the Diner we'll be taking a look at the other characters in your romance novel beyond the protagonists -- the secondary characters.

Secondary characters come in all shapes and sizes and have varying roles to play in your book. There are three degrees of participation: walk-ons, speaking roles, and major players.

Walk-ons are random passers by, crowd members, servers who bring ice tea but don't ask if you want sugar, and strangers in the airport who give your hero or heroine funny looks. Walk-ons are primarily filler since most of our characters live in worlds that have other people in them; to neglect to include any WOs at all would create a very strange environment. Not that there's anything wrong with strange.

Speaking roles are a little more complex. These are the characters who interact with other characters, either to increase realism or conduct important, yet subtle, conversations or actions that move the plot forward. A little old lady may compliment your hero and heroine for being such a cute couple when they aren't together. The ice tea server from earlier may spill the ice tea, enrage the villian, and villianous hijinks result. A character's family member may be added to the mix in order to increase conflict or show that the character doesn't live in a vacuum.

Then you have the major players. These are speaking roles of prominence, the parts all secondary characters hope they get. There's more pay-off, you see, because a major player gets to display personality and influence the plot in ways walk-ons and mere speaking roles don't. They might even get a character arc! Being an MP increases the chances they'll (a) have sex; (b) develop a fan base; and (c) get their own books. The difference between a speaking role and a major player is the amount they appear in the narrative, and some MPs have been known to take over the book. That's definitely something to watch out for with MPs, even when they're "minor" ones.

Since there is no NAG union (Novel Actors Guild), there are no minimum wages you have to pay and no requirements as to the amount of work characters can do in your plot. You can force them to work long hours, they do their own stuntwork, and they will take their clothes off without extra compensation if your plot calls for it. No other authors can steal them away for higher wages--they're yours to do with as you wish. In fact, even when they're intriguing, you're under no obligation to give them a spin-off book if you don't feel like it.

However, you do need to remember which characters your story is about -- your protagonists -- and make sure the juiciest bits are tossed their way or your plot and character arcs may feel unbalanced or unconvincing.

Stay tuned for two more Diner style weeks of gabbing and blogging about secondary characters!

Jody W.
SURVIVAL OF THE FAIREST--Coming 7/15 from Samhain Publishing
(In which the secondary characters definitely try to take over the book....)


  1. Excellent points, Jody!

    I love minor characters. Really I do!!!

    Luv you too!


  2. Novel Actors Guild *snicker* I love it!

  3. NAG - Perfect acronym. I have two nags right now who are bugging me for their own stories. Great post, Jody.