Friday, November 20, 2009

Interesting Secondary Characters

I wanted to share a particularly helpful bit of information I recently learned from an editor I follow.

As you know, I've been revising a MS for my agent, per request. And she had some very instructive, insightful things to say about it, but she pointed out (and it was immediately clear) that certain aspects of some of my characters were not fully imagined.

As you can think, this filled me with chagrin. Those darn secondary characters. They played good parts in the story, but I only showed the parts they played, and not their motivations. And this was hurting the story more than I ever suspected it could do.

So I thought. And thought. And finally I came up with how I could deal with this solution. I made a character sheet for each. I know. Uncool. I always mocked those types of things, but here I am using it. And you know what? It helped enormously.

In fact, I think it improved the story beyond what I had already thought was a darn good one. It was fantastic!

So just for reference, I'm including my main questions here for my secondary characters in case it might help you:

1. Character name
2. Character motivation in story
3. Character conflict
4. Character conflict with POV
5. Character resolution

Hope this helps you as much as it helped me! And tell me - do you do something like this at the end, in your revision process?


  1. I do something similar, but I also have an Excel sheet that tells me some basics, such as . . .

    - hair color
    - eye color
    - family members (brother, sister, father, parents divorced, mother deceased, etc.)
    - favorite foods
    - favorite drinks
    - how long certain characters have been friends
    - and a bunch of other stuff that I might need during the writing process


  2. I do the same thing.

    Secondary characters cannot simply be paper cutouts that flap around in the wind generated by the main characters actions.

    They have to have their own motivations and underlying intentions or they don't seem real.

  3. I tend to use my secondary characters "as needed" with respect to background. Yes, they have their own stories, but I try to reveal only what's necessary for them to play their supporting role.

    Of course, then they demand their own books, and I have to go back and fill in the blanks. But I try not to get TOO detailed, because I don't want to be locked into something that won't work when it's their turn to be front and center.


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