Monday, November 14, 2011

Saturday night I watched our school's production of Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella. I loved it! Everything was wonderful - the sets, the music, the acting, the singing. And while Cinderella and the Prince were quite charming, two of my favorite characters were the evil stepsisters. (Hats off to the actresses - they did a marvelous job!)

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?


  1. I am really enjoying these "Past Meets Present" posts, Amber. Great job!

    My secondary characters tend to want to take over my stories. In fact, I've had a couple of them clamor to have their own story told!! LOL! But Mary is right about determining whether or not they are vital to the story. There's nothing more distracting than having an OCD character popping up all the time spouting off something that has nothing to do with the book. :-)

  2. Lisa,

    Aww, thanks so much! :) I'm having fun putting them together!

    I love it when secondary characters surprise us. :) You add them in to fulfill a certain role, and then all of a sudden they've claimed your heart and stolen the show - begging for a story of their own, as you say! But I also agree that sometimes you have to make certain characters are really necessary... The way you're describing it in that last line, sounds like maybe you have some first-hand experience?? ;)



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