Wicked Wednesday – Secondary Characters

It’s Wicked Wednesday, when we all weigh in on a topic. Today, we’re still chatting about characters – namely, the cast of supporting characters who are often equally as important to our stories as our main character. So Wickeds, tell us about some of the inhabitants in your towns.

Barb: Readers often ask if the inhabitants of Busman’s Harbor are based on real people. The one people always ask about is Gus, the cranky restaurateur who doesn’t want anyone he doesn’t know personally in his restaurant. There really was a Gus and he really had that rule. Here’s what I’ve written about the real restaurant. guss4-300x136

“Gus’s had old round-topped gas pumps out front like something out of an Edward Hopper painting and two candle pin bowling lanes inside across from the lunch counter. His dining room had fabulous views of the aptly named Cozy Harbor. He prepared the food like he was cooking in his own kitchen (and with the same approximate speed) and you had to order a slice of his wife’s delicious pie when you placed your meal order, or there might not be any left when you were ready for dessert. Maine food writer Karyl Bannister reposted her original writing about the place–a restaurant review distinguished by the fact that she wasn’t allowed to disclose the restaurant’s name or location.

Both Gus and his wife have sadly passed on. There’s a new restaurant in the spot Oliver’s at Cozy Harbor. The food is wonderful and the new building takes much better advantage of the views. I recommend it to anyone traveling in the area. But I missed Gus’s so much that I created a highly fictionalized version of it in the Maine Clambake Series.”

Jessie: I adore the secondary characters because they present the opportunity to provide humor or quirkiness that might be hard to take from the protagonist. For me they are all vivid and interesting. In a way I find them easier to write because they carry less of the story on their shoulders so I sometimes feel more relaxed and in flow when I am working with them. Some of my very favorites are Augusta, the protagonist’s older sister in my first book, Live Free or Die and Dani’s mother, Kelly, in my Sugar Grove series. Both of those women walked full blown onto the page and spoke their minds. I was enchanted and enjoyed every scene in which they insisted on appearing.

Barb: Jessie, I heard Tess Gerritsen say the same thing, that secondary characters are more vivid because they flow more directly from our subconscious. She said both Rizzoli and Isles were “accidental characters.”

Liz: I love having a cast of regulars who not only help tell the stories, but who often have stories of their own. For me it’s Char Mackey, who is a New Orleans transplant to New England but has never left her traditions behind (like having parties). She presents a lot of opportunities for humor. Also, Frog Ledge’s resident state trooper, who also happens to be the handsome Jake’s sister. She and Stan don’t get along from day one, when Stan is the suspect in her first murder. The conflict between the two of them is so much fun to write!

Edith: On Cam Flaherty’s farm, a group of avid local foods enthusiasts – members of the

Actually my uncle, author Richard Reinhardt, but I love him so much he might as well stand in for Great-Uncle Albert!
Actually my uncle, author Richard Reinhardt, but I love him so much he might as well stand in for Great-Uncle Albert!

Locavore Club – belong to her CSA, her farm share program. The club president is Lucinda, a colorful transplanted Brazilian whom I love, and who is so real to me I feel like I should be able to post her picture. 14-year old Girl Scout Ellie is a continuing character, who volunteers on the farm and provides a breath of fresh air. Probably my favorite is Cam’s great-uncle Albert, who gave her the farm. He’s the wise kindly voice she can go to when she needs a hit of family, of common sense, and of surprise now and then. There’s a handsome Jake in my series too – but will his volatile, jealous nature prove too difficult for Cam to deal with?

Readers: Who are your favorite secondary characters? In our series, who had we better not kill off?

11 Thoughts

  1. Marty Terwilliger, in the Museum Mysteries. She is the classic sidekick–smart and devoted to history and connected to everyone in Philadelphia. She is based on a real person I knew and worked with, and she figured it out. I didn’t tell her at first because I was afraid she would be annoyed, but she thinks it’s great and now she’s my biggest cheerleader. The funny thing is, I spent a day with her recently and I realized I hadn’t invented anything. She’s no stereotype!

  2. It’s Wednesday??? Oops. My favorite secondary character is Angelo and he’s based on a former neighbor in Massachusetts. I checked with him first to make sure it’s okay because I use some of the stories he’s told me about growing up in Cambridge, MA. I did wildly exaggerate his character and made him into a fabulous cook. In real life his wife is the fabulous cook.

  3. I’ve always had a soft spot for Watson as a secondary character (as a reader). I’m having a hard time thinking of others because I read so many series where there are really two primary characters. For example, I’m thinking of Hank Phillippi Ryan’s “Jane Ryland” books. The subtitle would make you think that Jane’s the primary, but I can’t relegate Jake to pure “sidekick” status. He’s more than that. I’m going to have to examine this question further.

    As for my own writing, I’ve kind of fallen in love with my off-beat deputy coroner. He was supposed to be a one-story character. I just needed someone to examine the body at a scene. But once I invited him into the house, he just wouldn’t leave (and now I don’t really want him to).

  4. I must say, I love Nora’s crazy sisters Libby and Emma in Nancy Martin’s Blackbird Sisters series. I would not want them as sisters, but they are a hoot to read.

  5. I love secondary characters for the reasons you mentioned, if they are done well. I’ve read some that are fairly flat and boring, but when an author breaths life into them, I love them, straight man or funny comedic relief.

  6. Hello Liz,
    Just a note to tell you that I’ve recently fallen in love with Richard Reinhardt. Not far into his wonderful homage to Treasure Island, I already want to be his niece too! I hope he is well and wonder if he ever speaks in the Bay Area. Thanks, Celeste

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