Before I was published, a regular comment I used to get from judges or editors or others who read my WIPâ€™s was, â€˜I love your secondary characters.â€™ Well, I think part of the reason they come across so well is I love them too. I canâ€™t leave the wallowing in the dark of obscurity. I want to breathe life into them. They should be funny and empathetic and fully realised, because without them, the hero and heroine have no-one to really talk to, to bounce their woes off, to learn from.
Iâ€™ve used this argument before, but Iâ€™m going to use it again, because for me, it completely illustrates what Iâ€™m talking about. Iâ€™m going to go back to one of my favourite TV series that shows exactly what Iâ€™m talking about, (mostly because Joss Whedon is a genius with a secondary character and we could all learn a thing or two from him): Buffy The Vampire Slayer.
Buffy was a funny, quippy, multi-layered character with great strength but also deeply vulnerable who shone on the screen. However, none of this would have shown up so well if she was surrounded by cardboard cut-out characters. Iâ€™m not talking about Angel, because he is Buffyâ€™s hero (although I could wax on here about him being the tortured hero set to redeem himself against the odds and how dreamy that made him â€“ but thatâ€™s a whole other blog!) Iâ€™m talking about the sidekicks â€“ the Scooby Gang primarily.
Willow could have just been the brainy and dorky best friend, a 2 dimensional character whose sole purpose was to show up and point Buffy in the right direction, and show us how super and kick-arse amazing Buffy really was. But she wasnâ€™t. She showed up Buffy for her flaws as much as for her kick-arse amazingness. Some of the funniest lines in the show were given to her or Xander, even though Buffy was the recognised pop-referrential quipster. And I think the reason the show worked so well as a whole was because all of the secondary characters had their own life and story breathed into them right from the first episode.
For me, the secondary characters come to life at the same time as the hero and the heroine, and even though they may not be telling their story on this page, it is still an important story, and I make sure they have at least one person to tell it to â€“ me. Their stories are all in my head. And luckily for many of them, I love the kinds of novels that extend into series â€“ which means many of them will end up being able to explore their story on the page in their own books.
I have already had a bunch of reviewers love the main romance but then ask if some of their other favourite characters from Dark Moon and Killing Me Softly will get to come out and play â€“ which for me, is so rewarding. I actually had my first bit of fan mail from a reviewer who wanted to know if I was going to write Adam and Shelleyâ€™s story, because she loved them too. Others have thought Bron is a scream and River the tortured hero of their dreams. For me, I love all my secondary characters. And I love that readers want these other charactersâ€™ stories to be played out for them. Because it means Iâ€™ve done my job. It means Iâ€™ve breathed life into my whole story, that there is depth beyond the surface picture with a vast, glistening spiderweb of tangled and interconnecting stories underneath. And for me, there can be nothing better than that.
Long live the sidekicks â€“ you are eternally awesome!
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