Making Secondary Characters Shine
Today's #WriteTip is all about writing secondary characters who shine. In your quest to write real and relatable heroes and heroines, you're going to need to pepper their lives with siblings, friends, parents, or children, or even a spunky pet. For the reader to become invested in them and their journey, those secondary characters had better feel like they fit in the scene (and in the protagonist's life) and not like you cut them out of cardboard and slapped them into the background.
I receive emails on the regular from readers who are always asking "Does _____ have their own book???" and the answer is oft-times, and sadly, no. :( Why not? Depends. Sometimes they were only ever intended to be secondary to the story; to support the hero or heroine in his/her journey. Other times, I had the best intentions but it didn't work out. If you've been reading me for a while, you may recognize some of these names:
- Alessandre D'Paolo
- Officer Brady Hutchins
- Anthony Renaldo
Those secondary characters played important roles in my Second Chance ("Bad Boy") series, and there is a reason they felt so real and were so tempting.
I wrote them that way.
I wanted them to have a presence for a few reasons. One, the more real they were, the more real the main characters were, and two, if the series went wild and the publisher asked for three more books, I made sure I had plenty of heroes to cherry-pick for the follow-ups. It wasn't a ploy, though... far from it! Series continuing have many variables. Sales, trends, styles. Even with the best intentions to carry on, sometimes the interest isn't there either on the author's, publisher's or readers' parts. Other times, secondary characters transcend series.
Take for instance...
When the publisher didn't request a fourth book in the series, I vowed to say goodbye to Zach & Pen like I had Aless, Brady, and Ant. There was only one problem... they didn't go away. Their personalities were so big and so real to me, that I became obsessed with the idea of them having a book of their own.
I'm so excited that Harlequin liked my proposal for Zach & Pen, and that I was able to move these two to Dallas for a completely fresh start. I even dropped a mention of the Crane family into the opening, because how fun is that?!
So... now that you know your secondary characters may have life beyond supporting roles, don't you agree that it's worth making them shine?
Making secondary characters shine DOs and DON'Ts
DO select names carefully. This is especially important in romance. If you're gunning for them to have a story of their own, choose a hero-rific name. Evan Downey. Reese Crane. Zach Ferguson. Pro tip: Mentioning the first and last name is a surefire way to perk your readers' ears. Most characters who go on to receive their own books are introduced this way.
DO use a random name generator. You can use this for any of your characters, but I typically pull up this website for ex-boyfriends or ex-girlfriends, siblings, and parents. You can select if you want common or rare names, male or female. Pro tip: Mix and match results. Choose a first name from one of the picks and a last name from the other.
DO write down character names ahead of time. When I was plotting A Snowbound Scandal, I knew I'd have a scene with Miriam's siblings and their families, and her mother, at the Thanksgiving dinner table. If you have a big family, or have ever seen one in action, you know how much energy can spill into a room! To prepare for that scene, I selected the names ahead of time. Siblings and their significant others, Mom, Dad (who'd passed away a year prior), and Miriam's niece, complete with age. Deciding these details ahead of time made the scene easy to write. Pro tip: Jot down a detail or two about each secondary character. Hair color? Clothing style? Professional? Grumpy? Straight? Gay? Lives in Maine? College dropout? List at least one attribute that makes them feel 3D.
DON'T box yourself in. You might find yourself getting carried away with descriptions for the secondary character, but be forewarned! If you write too many details, you might not be able to switch up the plot/story the way you need to. Example: I knew I wanted to write an amputee hero, and I'd started side-eyeing Anthony Renaldo as The One. Unsure if he'd have his own book, or if I'd want that plot for him in the future, I decided to make sure he was wearing pants in every scene I wrote, just in case. (Eli Crane ended up being that hero, but I didn't know that at the time.)
DO OR DON'T let them steal the scene. This one is up to you! In most cases, you don't want your secondary hero (ie, the hero's best bud) to outshine your hero. Hero #2 is just gonna have to wait his turn. BUT. Sometimes the secondary hero is so dynamic, he overtakes every scene he's in. Example: Does the name Asher Knight ring any bells? In his case, letting him overtake the scenes was way too much fun. Asher had a lot of growing to do, and did so in the secondary scenes of three books before he finally had a chance to shine on his own. It's good to have rules, but sometimes you have to break them if your character says so.
That's it for today's write tip!