Welcome! It’s our final August Wednesday, and we’re wrapping up our character discussion. Today we’re talking secondary characters – the people we create to surround our main character. Often we spend so much time focused on our protagonist that our secondaries are afterthoughts – they’re here to advance a subplot, or be a foil of some sort. Other times, our secondary characters step up in a big way and demand attention and sometimes, their own storyline! So Wickeds, has this happened to you? Which secondary character has really surprised you and come alive in a way you never planned?
Edith: Lieutenant Buck Bird in my Country Store Mysteries started off as a bit of a bumbling bumpkin kind of cop – not quite Barney Fife, but close. I hadn’t predicted he would have much depth. Turns out not only does he have a legendary appetite and a colorful phrase for everything (“It’s colder than a polar bear’s toenails,” “I’m so hungry I could eat a cow between bread vans,” and much more), he’s also smart. He cares about protagonist Robbie Jordan. He’s happily married and raised several children, now successful adults. And he’s not bad at solving crimes. I feel like I DO know him, even though I invented him nearly out of whole cloth.
Julie: In my Clock Shop Series, Aunt Flo, Ben’s Aunt, came out of no where and was a fun character to write. Everyone else felt so staid, and she wasn’t. I also loved writing about her friendship with Caroline. In my new series (Pruning the Dead is the first book, out in January), explores the friendship of two women in their 60’s, and Caroline and Flo are part of the reason I wanted to explore that. In the Theater Cop series, I love Dimitri. When I first started writing those books, many years ago, he was a much flatter character. Now he’s a wonderful foil for Sully, and has more of a role in With A Kiss I Die, the next book in the series.
Liz: Frog Ledge, the town in my Pawsitively Organic Mysteries, has a whole slew of characters who tried to steal the show. Resident State Trooper Jessie Pasquale, though, was someone who really took on a bigger role than I expected. I knew she’d be a part of every book as the local cop, but her relationship with Stan developed into a whole storyline of its own. Of course, it helped that she’s the sister of Stan’s love interest, which also added conflict. But aside from that, Jessie ended taking way more space on the page than I ever planned.
Barb: I once heard Tess Gerritsen say that since secondary characters don’t have to carry so much weight in the story, authors can relax with them, going more with what comes from the subconscious, instead of over-thinking. She pointed out that both Jane Rizzoli and Maura Isles began life as minor characters. In my work, recently, I had a lot of fun with Mrs. St. Onge, Julia’s mother’s long-time next door neighbor. In Yule Log Murder she teaches Julia to make the titular cake. I could definitely see her turning up in another story.
Jessie: Liz, those women named Jessie can be such a handful! I love secondary characters and the way they add to the story like a dollop of grainy mustard on a roast beef and cheddar sandwich. Without them even favorites feel a bit flat. I first experienced the joy of secondary characters in my first novel, Live Free or Die. The protagonist’s sister blew onto the page fully constructed and utterly unexpected. In my Beryl and Edwina series I have a very soft spot for Simpkins, an elderly jobbing gardener. He needles Edwina and colludes with Beryl and provides me with endless fun as I write about him!
Liz: They sure can, Jessie! LOL!
Sherry: Seth Anderson was never supposed to be more than a nameless mentioned once character. Then he sent Sarah a text, and called her, and became Massachusetts Most Eligible Bachelor… I wrote an entire post about him on Jungle Red Writers. You can read it here.
Readers, do you have a favorite supporting character in any of your favorite series? Leave a comment below!