Saturday, January 19, 2019

Developing Secondary Characters

Secondary characters are very important to the setting and plot, for very few novels are based on a single character. While secondary characters are not the focus of a story, they often play pivotal roles and certainly influence the main characters.  Depending on their role a character plays in a story, they can be anything from a label, like a doorman, to a well-established personality very involved in the plot. 

Unnamed characters like the nurse, the store owner, or the taxi driver, who only show up once in a story may be little more than descriptions of their appearance or the motions of their function. They are more part of the setting than the plot. 

Secondary characters more involved in the story must show their personality and motivation through their actions and dialogue. It is the interactions between these characters that make the imaginary world seem real to the reader. Depending on the type of story being told, some come close to becoming the main characters.

I most often find secondary characters easy to develop. They have to have a purpose, so my secondary characters depend on their function in the story, and often I am guided by Carl Jung's archetypes to help develop their purpose. From there I give them both good and bad attributes, and I use their actions within the text, or use a main character's viewpoint of them, to let the reader know how they appear, sound, and act. This lets the reader determine their personality. 

Some of my stories, especially those in series have multiple characters. Crewkin has the fewest characters I have used in a story, just 7 through most of the story. During the last three chapters, two or three other named characters and a few unnamed characters show up to help end the story. 

Have any secondary characters become the main characters in another story? Yes. The heroines of Acceptance, Change, and Dragoon's Journey all first appeared as secondary characters.

While I love all of my main characters, do I have favorite secondary characters? Yes, too many to mention since three went on to their own stories. When I put so much time into their creation and then spend even more time with them helping to complete a story, they become good friends. 

Please visit these authors' sites to read their opinion on developing secondary characters:

Skye Taylor
Margaret Fieland
Helena Fairfax
Dr. Bob Rich

A.J. Maguire  
Fiona McGier
Beverley Bateman
Connie Vines

Victoria Chatham   
Judith Copek


  1. Yes, Rhobin, we love all our children, don't we? Even the walk-ons?

  2. Good point about the unnamed characters. I seem to have this compulsion to give everyone a name then have to go back and take it out. Your advice that their function or actions is more important than a name is solid as often adding the name is just confusing. I use the archetypes as well. Also birth order characteristics.

  3. I enjoyed your post and the mention of the secondary unnamed characters that have walk-on parts only. And again, those secondary characters often get their own stories.

  4. You're certainly right about characters becoming our friends. After all, we spend so much time listening to them in our heads, and trying to get them to behave the way WE think they should. Makes you get really fond of them.

  5. Interesting that you use Jung even for secondary characters. I like that. And my secondary characters often become good friends too. Crazy, isn't it?