This Month's Round Robin Blog Hop Topic: Secondary characters have many functions in stories. Have you ever had a secondary character surprise you in some way? How? How about in other author's books that you've read? Do you have a favorite secondary character in either your own work or in books you have read?
Secondary characters are important in so many ways. Among other things, they can add comic relief or get away with saying things that need to be said but the main characters can’t think them. Secondary characters provide depth to the story and to the main characters depending on the way the main characters react to them or rely on them. Years ago, my dad always watched Perry Mason (the original Perry Mason series) and he always marveled at how clever Perry was to ferret out the truth of who done it in spite of Lt. Tragg’s and Hamilton Burger’s assurance that they had the bad guy. But where would Perry have been without Paul Drake? Paul was the one who always came through with that illusive bit of information Perry needed to prove his client innocent. To me, Perry Mason would not have been the same character without his faithful sidekick Drake, or Della Street, the woman who always had his back.
In a newer series of novels, Murder on Edisto and Edisto Jinx by C. Hope Clark has included a whole cast of colorful characters, including Sophie the Psychic, who give depth not just to the story and the setting, but also are foils to her main character, Callie Morgan. And what would the movie Braveheart have been without the Mad Irishman, Stephen who claimed ownership of the whole Island of Ireland and a direct line to God?
Years ago, I read a book where the hero was an author who argued constantly with his main character. He, the author hero, wanted one thing and his hero character wanted something else. The author character would put his hero a heartbeat away from bedding the woman he desperately desired, then yank the rug out from under him and the would be seducer would scream in frustration. I often wonder how often both of these characters surprised the woman who wrote the novel.
In one of my historical novels, I gave my hero a sidekick who was his closest friend and business partner. But somewhere along the line the friend fell in love with the heroine meant for my main character. My first thought was, “Houston, we have a problem!” That was not what he’d been put into the story to do. But then I decided to just go with it and see where it led. By the end of the book, when the hero and heroine had overcome all their conflicts, it was clear that my lovesick secondary guy needed his own love interest, and of course, his own story, which I began writing at once. In the 4th book of my current series, which will be out this July, I have a secondary character who I thought I knew really well, but she did something I had never anticipated. And even then, once I accepted that twist, she did another about face. She was a teenager and teenagers are known to be filled with drama and angst, but still, I was surprised.
In considering the question of secondary characters who might surprise their authors, I wondered if those surprises come because the author is what we call a “Pantser”. A Plotter carefully outlines their books before they start writing so perhaps they never have surprises. But I write character driven stories by the seat of my pants. I’m a Pantser. I create my characters with detailed backstories. I interview my characters and ask difficult questions about how they feel about things before I begin to write. Then I just plop them into the situation I’ve set up for them and let them react. Maybe that’s why my characters so often surprise me.
But here are a few other authors willing to share their thoughts on secondary characters and surprises. Check them out.
Dr. Bob Rich