Nobody makes it through life without touching the lives of others.
The easiest way to do this is to give them skills and a purpose that contributes to the story in some way.
They Can Help the Main Characters Reach Their Goals
Secondary characters can take some of the main characters’ burdens.
Nobody is so perfect they can do everything on their own with no help from outside influences. Nor do the main characters have the time.
Allowing others to handle minor details or use their skills where it’s most needed helps the main characters accomplish multiple things at once, speeding up the pacing in places that might otherwise drag.
This takes some of the pressure off them and gives the secondary characters a purpose for being there, as well as giving the main characters access to other resources and making the plot much more unpredictable.
Example: The hero is trying to evade enemy soldiers.
Disguised, he stops into the local tavern for a meal. He flirts and exchanges small talk with the barmaid.
Soldiers coming off their shift enter not long afterward for a round of drinks, and he is recognized.
The hero starts a bar fight, hoping to get lost in the chaos, but can’t make it to the door on the other side.
The barmaid motions for him to follow her, and she quickly ushers him through the kitchen and out the back door.
Now, the barmaid in this example falls more into the realm of a background character than that of a fully-fleshed out secondary character.
But as you can see, she serves a purpose (helps him evade capture), gives the hero access to resources (back door), and makes the plot more unpredictable (could be headed into greater danger).
They Can Add Subplots and Conflict to the Story
Whether the secondary character supports the protagonist, antagonist, or is even neutral, everybody has their own goals, motivations, and lives of their own.
They won’t always agree with the main characters and might even put their own goals above the needs of the one they support.
This can lead to interesting story developments as the secondary character’s goals clash or intertwine with that of the protagonist and antagonist.
Give your secondary characters their own personalities and needs. Everybody deserves to have their own moment in the spotlight.
Make the world come to life by showing how the core conflict affects those around the main characters.
How do you use secondary characters?
FOR FURTHER READING
Renea strives to help writers develop the focus and skills they need to finish their first novel, offering writers practical writing advice they can apply one step at a time.
She is the author of Conquering Writing Pressures: Living a Balanced Writing Life in a Busy World where she helps writers find the courage to accept life will never be perfect. And if we want our dreams to succeed, we must fight to make them a reality.
She currently lives in St. Joseph, Missouri, with her husband Joe, her three children, and her five lovable furballs.
From a young age, Renea was mad for books and reading, and especially loved Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series, which she read in the ninth grade.
She is an avid reader, with her main interests residing in history, mythology, and fantasy, along with some romance and science fiction in her earlier years.
When Renea’s not writing, she enjoys genealogy, role-playing games, and dreams of traveling the world. In a past life, she plucked chickens and milked cows.