Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Ah, Those Secondary Characters

Your story sings when your secondary character (SC) is on the scene. Your plot comes alive when your SC is around.Your readers beg to see more of your SC.

Uh oh!

SCs create conflict, throw out obstacles and cause trouble. Or they may offer loving support, friendship and wisdom. They poke at our main characters (MC) with snarky jabs or gentle advice and we LOVE them ... sometimes more than our main character. And when that happens, it's as annoying as a guest getting all the attention at YOUR birthday party.

So what do you do when an SC starts taking over your story? I'm looking for answers.  Here's what I've come up with so far.

1. Your MC may be too passive, simply reacting to everything happening around him. Unless passive behavior is his flaw, give him something proactive to do.

2. Your MC needs more voice. Hilarious first person narration can keep your MC center stage. But whether funny, sober, sassy, or something in between, your MC's distinctive voice should make readers stand to attention.

3. Your MC may not be "likeable" enough. What makes your MC relatable? Why do we want to spend time with him? The more relatable, sympathetic and likeable your MC, the more we'll stick with him.

4. Give your MC more. Make him funnier, smarter, kinder, wittier, more loyal, more loving, more sensitive - something - more than your SC

5. Finally, you may have to tone down your party guest. Just a little. And save some of that celebrity for your sequel. How do you think Ramona Quimby got her start?


Now it's your turn. How do you keep your secondary characters in their place?

7 comments:

Mirka Breen said...

My current WIP has a secondary character that *almost* steals the story. I have done your #1 suggestion^, and am working to make the MC stronger.

Leandra Wallace said...

This is a good thing to keep in mind. Especially since my mc is more of the quiet type, compared to her more flamboyant friend. Thanks!

Laura said...

This is exactly what I needed! :) Thank you!

pennyklostermann.com said...

Thanks for the advice in this post, Jean!!! I will add it to my brain bank! It loves nice deposits like this!

Jean Reidy said...

You guys are too sweet! But I'm looking for YOUR advice as well. What do you do when those SCs hog the limelight?

Daisy Carter said...

I had a SC that was trying to steal the limelight in one of my WIPs. I took a long look at her, thinking maybe I was telling the wrong person's story. When I realized that wasn't the problem *whew!*, I brainstormed ways to give my MC some of the SC's backstory/emotional conflict - turns out, it fit my MC perfectly. I saw that I'd been writing the SC too big in first draft as a way to work out my story's core theme, which I shifted over to my MC.

No idea if any of that babble made sense! :)

Jean Reidy said...

Daisy -

That totally makes sense. And I think I might be doing the same thing. I'm working out some "truths" in the story, but I may be doing it primarily through some secondary characters. I might need to shift some of that tension/rumination/wisdom back to my MC.