It’s another month, and time for a Round Robin, and this month author Rhobin Courtwright has given us another excellent topic to mull over: Secondary characters have many functions in stories. Have you ever had a secondary character surprise you in some way? How? Who are your favourite secondary characters – in your own work and in other fiction?
Secondary characters are never really “minor characters” in a good story. They are there for a reason.
- They provide a foil for the main characters, reflecting the hero and heroine’s personality back to the reader so it provides us with another dimension.
- They’re often necessary for the plot – if a secondary character has been kidnapped, say, it provides a reason for the hero to act as he does.
- When used well, secondary characters deepen the theme of a novel. If the theme is loss, for example, then if the secondary characters suffer some sort of loss, this can add depth to the hero/heroine’s own troubles.
I find it great fun writing secondary characters, and I try to have all my secondary characters serve some purpose in my stories. In The Antique Love, for example, Tehmeena is the heroine’s assistant in an antique shop in London. The heroine, Penny, is a romantic and a dreamer, and Tehmeena is the perfect foil for her as she is pragmatic and down-to-earth. The two girls have a lot of affection for one another – and if they like each other, this helps the reader to like them, too.
As I mentioned above, secondary characters can be used to deepen the theme of the novel, and this is what I tried to do in A Way from Heart to Heart. The heroine, Kate, has lost her husband and through the course of the novel several other secondary characters leave her one after another, so that she ends up with a terror of losing a loved one again – and she fails to trust the hero.
In answer to the question, “Do my own secondary characters surprise me?” I’d have to say, to be honest, not often – I try to have their role and purpose pretty much mapped out, and I try not to let them overshadow the main characters. The one time I was surprised, though, was in my latest release, The Scottish Diamond. There is a secondary character in this novella who completely took me by surprise while I was writing one particular scene. It was brilliant when that happened – and I do hope the reader is equally surprised!
Here are some of my favourite secondary characters in fiction:
MelanieWilkes in Gone With the Wind. There’s a scene where a deserting soldier comes to Tara, and when Melanie drags herself out of her sick bed and comes to Scarlett’s aid clutching a sabre it’s a magnificent surprise for both Scarlett and the reader.
Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter books. Hermione is hard-working, where Harry Potter relies on flair. She’s also a Muggle, which means she has to work twice as hard to be accepted in some circles of the wizarding world. I must admit it surprised me that Harry and Hermione didn’t end up together at the end of the series.
Smike, in Charles Dickens’ Nicholas Nickleby. Smike is one of my favourite secondary characters ever. He’s a typical Dickensian character – a poor boy who is bullied by his wealthier “betters,” but he’s good and affectionate and his story is really touching. (And, since this is Dickens, Smike’s story involves a lot of surprises!)
Long John Silver in Stevenson’s Treasure Island. This is one of the best baddies ever, and he absolutely makes the book the genius story it is. I remember being terrified by Long John Silver when I read this book as a child. He’s a surprising mixture of being quite nice sometimes – and ruthless at others.
Jane Bennett in Pride and Prejudice. Oh, I love Jane so much! She’s much quieter and more reserved than Lizzie, and temporarily loses Bingley because of it. Who wouldn’t love Jane as much as Lizzie does? She never does anything surprising – she’s just constant and affectionate.
Rupert of Hentzau in Anthony Hope’s The Prisoner of Zenda. Another brilliant bad guy, played by James Mason in the excellent film verision. Rupert of Hentzau is handsome and dashing, and such a great secondary character that Hope later gave him his own story.
Mrs Rochester in Jane Eyre. I thought I was the only person who felt really sorry for Mr Rochester’s mad wife, until I read Wide Sargasso Sea, by Jean Rhys. In this novel, Bertha Rochester gets to tell her own story, and this book stayed with me for a long time.
Gilbert Blythe in Anne of Green Gables. The first time I read this book as a child Gilbert surprised me by continuing to adore Anne even though she constantly rejects him and is too proud to accept his friendship. He’s become one of my all-time favourite heroes, and another brilliant secondary character.
Thanks to Robin Courtright for providing us with another great topic. I’m intrigued to find out what the other authors have to say on this subject, and how they create their own secondary characters. If you’d check out their posts, you can find them here:
Anne Stenhouse http://annestenhousenovelist.wordpress.com/
Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Judith Copek http://lynx-sis.blogspot.com/
Connie Vines http://connievines.blogspot.com/
Marci Baun http://www.marcibaun.com/
Rachael Kosinski http://rachaelkosinski.weebly.com/
Hollie Glover http://www.hollieglover.co.uk
Dr. Bob Rich http://wp.me/p3Xihq-CZ
Rhobin Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com/
Victoria Chatham http://victoriachatham.blogspot.ca/
Fiona McGier http://www.fionamcgier.com/
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If you’re a writer, are you ever surprised by the secondary characters you create? And if you’re a reader, who are your favourite secondary characters ever?
If you have any comments at all, I’d love to hear from you!