Introducing your secondary
Adventures in NaNoWriMo

Writing Secondary Characters NaNoWriMo day 8

Secondary Characters make things complicated

On day 8, your character now has to deal with the consequences of the inciting incident. Your job as a writer is to make things worse. This role often falls to secondary characters. Peeta also gets picked for the Hunger Games. Sadness’s depression hinders Joy’s attempts to return to headquarters. These secondary characters function in the story to raise the stakes for the hero.

Nothing is worse than a secondary character who has no function. A love interest that’s just there to look pretty or get rescued? Maybe twenty years ago, but readers no longer give a blank pass to the skirt. Characters need to have a function in your story. They need to affect the main action.

Secondary characters need backstory

People don’t just materialize out of thin air. Your secondary characters shouldn’t as well. You can either pre-write this story or discover it as you draft. (If you are a discovery writer, make sure you keep a separate document somewhere and record the details of each character as you discover it. Otherwise, you may get to the end of the novel and find he was born in two different places!)

Be careful when you are in this phase. Writing secondary characters can be fun, but it can also eat up all your writing time and leave you with a Tolstoy-level cast list.

Cheat sheet for secondary characterssecondary characters

Relationship to the main character
How does this character reflect the main character?
How does this character reveal main character’s flaw/lie?
How does this relate to the theme?
What is this character’s goal?
How is the main character standing in the way?
What will the main character learn from this character?

Many of these questions may overlap, and depending on how prevalent the character is in the plot, you may not need to answer all of them. Whichever you decide, remember to always frame the secondary characters in relationship to your main character. Maintain a balance between making them feel like real people and allowing them to upstage your main character.

Make a map

Once the cast reaches a certain size, you may have problems keeping all the relationships clear. If this is a problem, make a cluster chart

This is a simple example

Secondary character relationship chart

In each block put the name of the character and use the lines to show how these characters are related.

Writing Secondary Characters-www.themanuscriptshredder.comYou can either use the lines to denote the relationship between the characters or use them to mark the conflict between the characters. If you have a small cast, this step may not be necessary. The key is to make sure that all the secondary characters are framed in relation to the main character.

Secondary characters must support the main character

Secondary characters are called the supporting cast because they are there to affect the main character. They must raise the stakes either by hindering the hero’s progress or increasing the consequences of failure. They must illuminate a hero’s flaws or guide him to learning his truth. Secondary characters have an important role. Make sure yours are doing their jobs.

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M.L. Keller is a freelance writer and editor. Her blog "The Manuscript Shredder" is focused on helping emerging writers hone their craft.


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