Remember Ashley and Melanie in GONE WITH THE WIND? They were both secondary characters that played major roles in the classic Southern epic. As we’ve previously discussed, Donald Maass, in his WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL WORKBOOK, challenges writers to create characters that stand out from the crowd. That challenge applies to secondary characters as well.
What about walk-on roles? They’re the bit parts in a movie, such as the bellboy, receptionist or the waitress. Usually they remain unnamed in books and are given little or no dialogue. We don’t have to worry about them for this discussion.
The next rung of characters has a slightly larger position within the story. They are usually named and briefly described. They help to move the story forward either by shedding light on the hero/heroine's motivation, goals, conflict or character arc. Sometimes they act as a reflection of the character or perhaps the opposite of who the character truly is.
The third rung belongs to the significant secondary characters that may carry their own subplot. They are more involved in the story with their own goals, motivation and both internal and external conflict.
Second and third rung characters should be unique—never stereotypical—and well formed, at least in the writer’s mind. While not all the information will be included in the text of the story, the writer who fully understands his secondary characters can pick and choose snippets of information, dialogue and introspection that are essential to the plot. As always, Maass wants us to step outside the box to create bigger-than-life characters who will engage the reader throughout the story.
Wishing you a joyous Easter and abundant blessings!