Sometimes the secondary characters really can steal the show in our stories, as well. While we still want our hero and heroine to win over our readers, we also want authentic secondary characters. Last week we talked about the villain - this week, let's talk about how to make our secondary characters shine!
What we can learn from the evil stepsisters (at least in the play I saw!):
- Personality - Boy, did these two girls have this in spades! Whether our secondary characters are jokesters, drama queens (or kings), or wise old (or young) men/women, they ought to have a personality that distinguishes them from the other characters. Names can also help with this. In Rodgers and Hammerstein's version of Cinderella the two stepsisters are named Portia and Joy. If you've read Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, you might see the irony in a rather less intellectually endowed girl being named after the smart Portia who pretends to be a lawyer to save a man's life. And Joy - well, there's certainly irony in a name like that for a sour stepsister like her!
- Presence - Over at Seekerville, author Mary Connealy recently wrote a post entitled "Who is that guy?" Her point in the post is that we ought to make sure all our characters are actually necessary. If we take out a secondary character, will it make a difference to the story? The stepsisters in the play added so much humor and contrast that it wouldn't have been nearly as enjoyable without them. In the same way, the secondary characters we create should have such a presence that the story wouldn't have the same impact without them. And if they don't? Well, you might want to consider killing one off... *Gasp!* OK, maybe just make them disappear or something! ;)
- Power - Just as we discussed regarding our villains last week, our secondary characters shouldn't be cardboard cutouts. They should have some sort of power - an important role in the story and a voice that will stick with the reader. It's hard to do this with every secondary character, but as much as possible we ought to have stories populated with "real" people whose lives are woven together to present a piece full of meaning. The evil stepsisters have a song that asks, "Why would a fellow want a girl like her?...Why can't a fellow ever once prefer a usual girl like me?" While it's a funny song, it also contributes to the other songs in asking important questions as to why people fall in love and what true love really means.
Here's where the past meets the present! (Let's just say that Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella is a piece of the past that's found its way to the present... After all, the Cinderella story has been around for quite a while!) Could your secondary characters use a makeover? What secondary characters from movies and books have inspired you to give your secondary characters more personality, presence, and power?