All stories are chock-full of characters. Mentor, leaders, mains, the random person on the other side of the road, the baker in the shop down the street. Even if they don't have names, they're there.
We've already discussed how to liven up your mentor, leader, and villain characters. And now it's time to discuss another of the most important characters in the story - your secondary characters (which often happen to be some of my top-favorites in stories).
Samwise Gamgee, Dustfinger, Ronald Weasley, Iko the android. Those are a few of the first secondary characters that pop into my mind - and they're all very good secondary characters.
So what can you do to liven up your secondary character?
1. Give them a personality that is the opposite of the main character's, or one that's quirky
|via Google Images|
Maybe your main character is a little too down-to-earth, so your secondary character can be a bit of a Luna Lovegood type - dreamy and head-in-the-clouds. Or maybe your main character is an ISTP, and your secondary character is an ENFJ. Or perhaps your main character is quite content to stay at home with his 'books and garden and armchair' but your secondary character has a huge case of wanderlust. This could cause your main character to get dragged into an adventure, which would also be helping the plot along. Secondary characters are good for lots of things ;).
2. Create friction with the other characters
Lets take Gollum from the Lord Of The Rings series. He's a secondary character who causes a lot of friction throughout all of the books. He has two personalities - Gollum and Smeagol - and this makes it so that he doesn't just cause problems with other characters, he also causes problems with himself. He's a very good example of a secondary character who creates friction and moves the plot along.
Maybe one of your secondary characters tends to mumble when they're distracted, and it drives the other characters nuts. Or maybe they have to pace when they're nervous. Or maybe it's more of a personality thing - maybe your secondary character is really brash in their decision making, while one of your other characters is more apt to think things through.
3. Make sure they have a life and goal of their own
|via Google Images|
I love how this is done in The Hunger Games, in which Gale is one of the secondary characters. Gale is Katniss' best friend in the beginning of the book. But Suzanne Collins makes sure that we know that Gale has a life of his own through his actions (I'm speaking mostly of the first book here) - he can't always do everything Katniss would like him to do, because he has his family to think about. He hates the Capitol, but he can't fight against them as well as Katniss can because of the life he leads. He needs to work to feed his family while Katniss fights. Collins doesn't let us believe that Gale is there just to help Katniss along - a good secondary character will sometimes cause problems for the main character, too. And sometimes Gale has to cause problems for Katniss, because he has to live his own life. And yes, while Gale does have the same goal as Katniss, it makes sense because he led a life similar to her's.
Make sure that your secondary character doesn't just go along with everything in the series - they have to have a reason for doing what they're doing. They can't always be helping the main character out - sometimes they'll need to do their own thing. It's important to show your readers that your secondary character is fully fleshed-out, and a fully fleshed-out character will live their own life and have their own goal, too.
While this point isn't quite as important as all the rest, I feel that it should still be touched on. Too many stories have been ruined for me by giant casts with names that are a) way too hard to pronounce b) way too similar or c) too unique and complicated. I love crazy character names, but twenty of them in one story? That's a little far.
Naming a character is normally either very easy, or very hard. Some characters immediately have a name that fits like a glove, and others will keep their name hidden in the dark until you've waded through fire and ice to find it. But you should definitely put some thought into your secondary characters names.
Does it work well for them? Do you have other characters with names too close to it? Would it be super hard for anyone (other than the author) to pronounce?
I like to write all of my character's names down - no matter how unimportant they are (some secondary characters are more "major" and some are more "minor") - in the back of my brainstorming notebook, so that I can keep all my ducks in a row ;).
5. Give them a trademark
|via Google Images|
Leia's hairstyle is one of her "trademarks". Physical trademarks are cool for all kinds of characters, secondary or not. And then there are personality trademarks - who can think of a secondary character who is loyal almost to a fault? I'd say Samwise Gamgee in a heartbeat. A loyal personality is his "trademark".
Iko the android's human-like personality is her "trademark", Hermione's intelligence is her "trademark". And then there's Dustfinger and his fire skills, Mrs. Weasley and her bossy personality, Legolas and his bow - there are tons of "trademarks" in the story world.
Maybe your secondary character has glasses that always and forever sit crooked on his/her nose. Or maybe they can always be expected to say "let's think about what could go wrong" right when a new idea is brought up. Or perhaps they have a certain possession that they are never seen without?
Secondary characters can either bog a story down, or keep it going. Make sure that your secondary character doesn't become a lifeless tag-along that's only there to get your main character out of scraps. Give them a life of their own - and give them personality! Don't let people forget your characters, and they won't forget your story, either ;).
~ Savannah Grace
Does your secondary character have a "trademark"? Who is one of your favorite secondary characters in a story you've read?