Adding Depth With Secondary Characters

I want you to imagine something for me. Let’s say that last year I stepped through a magical door and went missing for a month. Let’s say I was in a fantasy world, where I became embroiled in a fight for justice, only to find myself yanked back to reality without the chance to find out how the battle ended. Let’s say I’m desperate to get back there to the cause that’s become my own, and the friends I left behind. (What’s that? Of course I made this up, hush….)

Since I returned, I’ve taken up archery, in case I can get back. I’ve learned to use a compass, worked on my first aid, and taken up as many practical skills as I can. School’s not as important to me anymore, though I used to be a dedicated student. Now, I just need to get back to the people and places I grew to love.

Now, let’s say I’m the main character in a novel. And let’s say my best friend is a secondary character.

From her point of view, I vanished for a month, and refuse to talk about why. I don’t care about school, I’ve dropped my friends and hobbies. I’m not the same girl who’s been friends with her for years. She’s worried, she’s frustrated and she’s hurt.

An author tackling our relationship has a range of choices. If she doesn’t think about things from my best friend’s point of view, she risks making her a pushover — no difficult questions, no challenges. Just a couple of token protests. Boring!

If she thinks about my best friend’s point of view carefully and makes her the heroine of her own story, she’ll be in a position to weave a more complex and satisfying storyline. Conflict with my best friend brings in new plot threads and challenges to overcome, will tug at my conflicting loyalties, and show me in a different light to the reader.

To make sure your story has that depth, consider sitting down and writing a paragraph — or a page — summarising the plot from your secondary characters’ points of view. Ask what they’d think, feel and want, then check they’re acting in accordance with those needs. Your story will be richer for it!

Do you have any advice to share, or a favourite secondary character in a book you love?


One Response to Adding Depth With Secondary Characters

  1. Alexa S. Aug 26 2014 at 3:06 pm #

    Such simple advice, but I definitely think it would change the tone of a story and even add a bit of color to do this! I’ll definitely be keeping this in mind for the story I’m writing, as I’d like my secondary characters to pop off the page a bit and not be cardboard cutouts 🙂

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