Friday, September 20, 2013

A Bit About Secondary Characters from Melissa Snark!

Today we have The Wild Rose Press erotic romance author Melissa Snark! She's celebrating her book's birthday with a post about secondary characters, then a blurb and excerpt from Learning to Fly! Settle in and have fun! 

~ Mia 

Secondary Characters: More than just a (less) pretty face

 In literature, the majority of characters fall into one of three categories:
  • Primary: the hero, the heroine, the protagonist, the antagonist.
  • Secondary: the hero's best friend, wife, boss, sister or brother, mother or father.
  • Fringe: the mailman, the valet, the receptionist. Part of the scenery.
While the protagonist and antagonist are often in direct conflict or opposition to each other, secondary characters serve myriads of other functions. They are important to your hero in some fashion and often perform the tasks essential to advancing the storyline.

What do secondary characters do? They—

  • React to and interact with the hero
  • Offer feedback on things that happen
  • Provide comic relief or dramatic tension 
  • Affect the outcome of events in order to keep the plot moving forward

Unless your hero is stranded alone on a desert island, your story must have secondary characters. (Even Tom Hanks had his trusty soccer ball, Wilson, in Castaway.) How interesting and memorable those characters are depends upon the author. Static, boring characters are an interest killer, so the writer must strive to bring secondary characters to life within the reader's imagination.

Interesting characters:

  • Have varied appearances—tall or short, fat or thin, beautiful or ugly. No two look exactly alike—unless they happen to be twins.
  • Have distinct personalities, including traits which contrast with the hero's personality. Quirks and eccentricities are a great way to create a memorable character who will stick in the reader's mind.
  • Have desires. To quote Kurt Vonnegut: "Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water."
  • Act to further their desires even if it brings them into conflict with the hero.
Too many secondary characters are as bad as too few because they may overwhelm the reader, leaving her dizzy from trying to keep track of the players. Sometimes during the editing process they are cut back or cut out entirely. Other times, their role is dramatically expanded.

In series fiction, an ongoing cast of secondary characters are an excellent means of engaging the reader. The audience has the opportunity to become familiar with these individuals and wants to find out what will happen to them next. In a fiction series, the heroine of a prior book assumes the role of best friend while another character steps forward to take center stage. The potential pitfall lies in that the author may be tempted to allow the former heroine to take over the current story.

All in all, finding the equilibrium between contributing versus cloying secondary characters requires a deft hand. Keeping your current protagonist front and center to the spotlight is tricky business. The balancing act between too much and too little is a delicate one, more art than science.

Here's a example of how I utilized a secondary character in my romantic suspense novel Learning to Fly to add some comedy relief.

Excerpt from Learning to Fly:

“I can take you.”

Her front teeth sank into her lower lip and her green eyes widened. “Oh no. I mean—no thank you. I’d like to go alone.”

His brow rose; suspicion glimmered in his eyes. Too late, she realized how her response must seem both rude and inappropriate. She needed to buy enough clothes to last through her stay and wanted to do so without drawing undo attention to her predicament.

She turned red. “It’s just—I’m going to be a while. I have a lot to do.”

His lips curved up in a bland smile. “I only thought you might appreciate a ride, Ms. Claeys, since you don’t have a car.”

Crap. He had her.

She swallowed and quelled the urge to apologize. She doubted her attractive employer heard the word “no” very often. She sensed he wasn’t trying to gaslight her on purpose. However, he made her nervous, and as her boss, he had power over her. If he changed his mind about having her here and told her to leave, then she had nowhere else to go. She didn’t like it at all.

“Thank you, Mr. McCleod. That’s a very thoughtful offer, but I’d hate to take up your entire day with trivial errands. Perhaps someone could drop me in town?”

He gulped the rest of his orange juice and set down the glass, regarding her with unblinking brown eyes. “I appreciate your concern for my time, but I don’t mind at all.”

Approaching the table, the housekeeper stopped and surveyed them, curiosity written all over her face. Cassie felt Shelly’s eyes on her face and she avoided eye contact, well aware of how her expression gave everything away. She sucked in a deep breath and tried to quell her rising panic. The last thing she needed was to make a scene, but thanks to Kyle’s stubborn determination to have his way, they were well on the way.

She forced a smile. Time to resort to scare tactics. “I’m going shopping.” She paused and lingered on the S word, allowing the implication to sink in. “I’ll be trying on clothes and shoes. I love shoes. I’m going to be a long time. Hours, I imagine.”

Kyle licked his lips and Cassie stared at the tip of his tongue as it emerged past his teeth. Her cards were on the table. If he refused to back off, then she resolved to drag him through every store in the entire town, especially the embarrassing ones full of frilly things.

“No problem, I’m not in a hurry,” he said.

Cassie flushed. All too aware of Shelly’s amusement, she made one final try. “That’s funny. Most men I know hate shopping. You’re an unusual man, Mr. McCleod.”

He smiled and replied, quick and glib. “I assure you, I love to shop, Ms. Claeys.”

Shelly chortled hard enough to knock her off her feet. Startled, they turned toward the housekeeper who pressed one hand to her side and grasped a chair back with the other for support. 

“Good Lordy, Kyle! My boy!” Shelly wiped tears from her cheeks with her apron.

“That’s the biggest lie I’ve heard pass your lips since you were twelve ‘n claimed a lumberjack put that pick axe through the dining room table!”

Kyle’s ears turned red and his lips compressed. Cassie hid a smile behind her hand. Thank goodness for Shelly Arthur.

“God should strike you down in your tracks. You’re a terrible liar,” Shelly lectured with a wagging finger.

Blurb for Learning to Fly...

Cassandra Claeys is a bohemian artist with a passion for shoes and architecture. Her past wasn't pretty and she's got the scars to prove it, but she's determined to live and love again and she's hoping her newest client is just the man for the job. But the crazed serial killer that once held her captive escapes from prison, willing to kill again to make his maniacal fantasies come true.

Architect Kyle McCloud hires the fiery redhead to illustrate his latest project, never dreaming that she would bring passion and danger to his door. Cassie is easily spooked and as flighty as one of his injured birds, but he's willing to work overtime to make her soar for him alone.

Learning to Fly Buy links:

Author Bio:

Melissa Snark is an erotic romance and paranormal fantasy novelist. She lives in Northern California with her husband, three children and a glaring of domestic house cats.

Where to find Melissa Snark on the Internet:
Email:  melissasnark at

1 comment:

Melissa Snark said...

Hi Mia,

Thank you so much for having me as your guest today. :-)

Post a Comment

Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment! I appreciate hearing from you.