I’ve been mining goodness out of Donald Maass’ workbook Writing the Breakout Novel. Chapter 10 is all about secondary characters. I’m usually pretty good at coming up with secondary characters, but there’s always room for improvement. Maass says secondary characters have to be every bit as engaging as primary characters–they can’t be forgettable, boring, or predictable. How do you turn a boring character into an interesting one?
(This is Watto, a secondary character from Star Wars. Photo courtesy of wikipedia)
Here’s what Maass says about creating vibrant secondary characters:
Choose one of your boring characters. Now write down his defining quality (in a separate document from the novel, obviously). Is he charming? Clever? Witty? Have a knack of being at the right place at the right time? Write it down. Then write down the opposite of that quality and create a paragraph in which the character demonstrates the opposite quality you have identified. Do it now. I’ll wait.
Now give that character an inner conflict. What does he want most? What’s the opposite of that desire? How can he want both things simultaneously? How can they be mutually exclusive? Write it all down.
Next, come up with things this character would never do, say, or think (is this all sounding familiar to you? It should, because we did these same exercises with the protagonist last week). Find places in your novel where your secondary character must say, do, or think the things you’ve come up with.
By developing your secondary characters as fully as the protagonist, they become more interesting, more vibrant, more indispensable to the story. Granted, most of their back-story may never come out, but it can. Play with it in your novel. As long as the secondary characters don’t take over the protagonist’s role, they’ll help the hero rather than hinder.
Care to share what you came up with? Your comments are helpful and desired.