How To Liven Up Your Secondary Character


March 7, 2017


   Welcome to the fourth post in my How To Liven Up Your Character series! Click here, here, and here to see the posts that were done before this one. (and do remember that these are just tips, not set-in-stone rules for character building)

How To Liven Up Your: Secondary Character (header)

   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

Luna Lovegood from the Harry Potter series
via Google Images
   An example of opposing personalities can be found in Harry Potter and Hermione Granger. Hermione puts a lot of importance on her studies, and always tries to think things through very fully - while Harry doesn't find school that important, and he's a little more brash in his decision making. Their personalities are different, and that definitely keeps things interesting. And then there's Luna Lovegood - another secondary character from the same series, and a very good example of a secondary character with a quirky personality. A lot of people call her Loony Lovegood, because she always has her head in the clouds and believes in many impossible things. She's definitely quirky, and her personality sets her apart from the swarm of other characters in the Harry Potter series - or any other series, actually.
   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


   Secondary characters are prime for creating friction with other characters - whether they're villains or not. Put two intelligent creatures in one setting, and you'll probably end up with some friction after a time (either the friction will be between those two characters, or with their surroundings - if you want to get real creative). And friction leads to conflict, and conflict leads to plot.
   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
  
Gale Hawthorne from the Hunger Games series
via Google Images
Everyone can tell that the main character has a life (their life is what the story is all about!) - but we have to keep in mind that the secondary character has a life, too.
   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.
 
4. Names

   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

Princess Leia from Star Wars
via Google Images
I sometimes find characters to be more interesting when they have a "trademark" - either personality wise or otherwise. For example, if you saw anyone wearing a hairstyle like Leia, you would immediately know who they're trying to be.
   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?

40 comments :

  1. You've done it again! GAH. These posts. I love them so much!

    I often tend to like the secondary characters more than main characters. (Oops...?) Such as Samwise and Iko. I LOVE THEM SO MUCH.

    I just want to give this whole post a high-five. This is like...the PERFECT formula for a fantastic secondary character. Giving the secondary character an opposite personality from the MC is BRILLIANCE. Friction is definitely key, between all characters. *nods* And a life of their own, yesssh. I especially like how you said sometimes they can CAUSE problems. It may be called the "supporting cast" but that doesn't mean they ACTUALLY have to support the MC. XD Again, friction is key! Gale was the perfect example. His character was SO real. Sure, he and Katniss were a team, but he still very much had a life outside of hers, and I loved that. It was so realistic.

    The names! Oh gracious, yes. I'm sorry, but my small brain can't keep up if there are 4 people whose names start with M and each is some convoluted fantasy name. I JUST CAN'T.

    And, lastly, I looove your thoughts on trademarks. Not just physical ones, but PERSONALITY trademarks! That is just genius. ALL OF THIS IS GENIUS. *huggles post*

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    1. You and I are on the same page. I like one of my secondary characters more than my main character. I don't have the slightest idea how that happened. *shrugs* I guess I have to like my character to be able to write to my satisfaction. I need to work on that. All in all, I don't think it's a bad thing to like your secondary character more than the main character. (Hope this wasn't confusing or anything.) :)

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    2. THANK YOU, Lauri! I'm so glad that you guys like these posts <3.

      Iko and Sam are two of my top-favorites secondary characters - they're so well written, and they're so much fun, too! <3 <3 And YES, Gale. I was super impressed by how realistic he was! Gale is definitely one of the best secondary characters that I've ever read about, so I had to include him ;).

      The name thing is a problem I had with some of the Lord Of The Rings history. Too long, and too many. This poor goldfish can't keep up xD.

      Thank you for reading, Christine! :D

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  2. WOW THIS WAS SO GOOD THOUGH.

    So much yes in the one post and I really think this legit will help with writing my characters.

    YES FOR TRADEMARKS. They're the best, and I need to sit down and purposefully think out a trademark for about half of my characters. BECAUSE IT'S A VERY COOL IDEA.

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    1. THANK YOU, Prill! I'm so glad that these posts are actually helpful, and not just me rambling aimlessly xD.

      I LOVE characters with trademarks - mostly because then actual things in our world remind me of that character. It's so fun!

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  3. SAMWISE AND LEGOLAS!!!!!!!!!!!!! <3 I love those guys! Um... I love Haymitch, also. I tend to like secondary characters with quirky and unusual personalities more than the average characters. Probably because I'm unusual... xD
    Thank you for the advice!!!

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    1. I also like trademarks. Every character is different, so they all need something they like or are interested in... Also stereotyping is something that all writers need to look out for. xD

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    2. ALL the Lord Of The Rings characters are amazing - and the same goes for Hunger Games. I admire those authors so much. And yes, stereotyping is definitely dangerous. I should do a post about stereotypes at some point ... thanks for the idea! :D

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    3. I know! They're two of my fav's! xD Ooh! Yay! I hope you do... *hint hint*
      I tend to make my characters a little too average sometimes, too. They all end up acting and looking alike. I definitely need to watch out for that. But I have come up with some...interesting and unique characters recently... :D

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  4. This is awesome, Savannah!
    I feel like I need to bring more "personality" and "trademarks" to my characters. I never really thought about that before!

    I'm hosting an online party for writers on April 1st!! http://teenwritersparty.blogspot.com/

    Please tell all your writer friends!!

    - Lilly Shyree (alillyingodsgarden.blogspot.com)

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    1. Thank you, Lilly! I'm glad you enjoyed this :). And thank you for giving me the link to your online party - I'll be sure to check it out!

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  5. You have mentioned Iko. That is all I need in life.

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    1. I desperately want a droid like Iko xD.

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  6. Ack, so much goodness!
    YES, trademarks! Three cheers for Legolas and his bow--and Gimli and his axe!
    I loved this post so much!! Great job, crazy author girl!

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    1. I e-mailed you back and forgot to mention Eragon. Seriously, what is our deal? Anyway, I just e-mailed you again, and because OF COURSE I still forgot to ask in the e-mail, who was Sky matchmaking?

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    2. Legolas and his bow is one of my favorites, but I'm definitely biased because he's an elf xD. I'm glad you enjoyed this - thanks for reading, Hanna! <3

      Sky? Eragon and Arya - I wanted to tell her all the spoilers about the series, but she wouldn't let me xD. I'll try to email you back soon!

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    3. Haha, all the elves get lots of extra awesomeness points. <3
      Your welcome, it was great! I think this might be my favorite character building post you've done so far? I really enjoyed it.

      I assumed it'd be Eragon and Arya. ;) I'll look forward to your e-mail!

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  7. okay this post was so inspiring - totally what I needed right now with plotting and it's true - secondary characters have a life and need goals. thanks so much for this!!

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    1. Ooh, I'm so glad it could help! Your story is going to be AWESOME, I can't wait until you start writing it ;).

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  8. I have about five characters, so it's hard to pick what my secondary character would be. Thus, I will pick one character to talk about. Yes, one of my secondary characters has a trademark.
    I've watched the movie for the Hunger Games, and Peeta is definitely my favorite secondary character. If I read the book then I know that Peeta would still be my favorite secondary Character. Savannah, would Peeta count as a secondary character, or another main character. I mean, he plays a big role in the story as well as Katniss. *in deep confusion*

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    1. Wait...Peeta WOULD be a secondary character. *Oops* :)

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    2. Peeta is an awesome secondary character - and one of my favorites! Suzanne Collins does such a great job with all the characters she writes. And yes, he would be secondary, since the Hunger Games is written in first person by Katniss ;).

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    3. I know, he's the best. (I think)
      He put so much emotion into his part. :)

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  9. Oh my goodness, these are such good things to remember. I now need to go through all my characters and make sure they're actually interesting. XD My favorite secondary character's trademark is: she has bright pink hair and dresses like an actual 5 year old princess-wannabe (even though she's, like, 17) but she is the most heartless character I've ever written. She has no chill, and hates everything. I adore her.

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    1. Also, I'm sure you're super busy being an amazing blogger and all, but I thought I'd tag you! So...you've been tagged for the Sunshine Blogger Tag. :)

      https://theoddlifeofegy.blogspot.com/2017/03/sunshine-blogger-tag-my-favorite-genre.html

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    2. I need to do that with my characters, too - it'll be good to make sure I'm following my own advice xD. OH MY GOODNESS your secondary characters sounds so amazing. I can already tell that you're doing a great job with her and I want to read about her so bad!

      Ooh, really? I'm probably going to be doing a mashup of all the tags that I've got waiting sometime soon - so thank you for tagging me!

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  10. BRB READING ALL OF THE POSTS IN THIS SERIES BECAUSE ASDFGHJKL SOOOO GOOOOOD. All of the points you make here are so true!! I usually end up loving secondary characters in books much more than the main characters. :'''') EVEN IN MY OWN BOOKS. It's pretty funny. I especially like what you said about giving a secondary character a life of their own -- that's kind of how I was able to create a spinoff/companion book from Port Orange...because I just wanted to follow my secondary character and see what happened in her life.

    ANYWAY YES THIS POST IS GREAT. <333333

    rock on,
    abbiee

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    1. AWK, YOU'RE THE BEST, ABBIE *hugs and waffles*. Thank you so much, girl! And I agree about secondary characters - in half of my novels, my favorite ends up being the secondary xD. But spinoff books are always cool so YAY for likable secondary characters! <3

      Thanks for reading, waffle queen!

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  11. I absolutely LOVE secondary characters!! I sometimes tend to focus maybe a bit too much on them instead of the main character... XD These are all awesome tips, Savannah!! I agree, giving your secondary characters a trademark really helps in bringing their personality out more. Lovely work, as usual! ;)

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    1. Thank you, Madeline! And sometimes my secondary characters get a LITTLE too much attention - one of my novels (Killing Snow) isn't even done yet, and already one of the secondaries has part of a prequel written for him xD.

      Thank you for reading! <3

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  12. I LOVE secondary characters. My favorite.... Samwise Gamgee. What could be wrong with the most loyal, devoted hobbit ever? =)

    Also..... http://campnanowrimo.org/campers/micaiahwrites I've decided to do Camp this April! =)

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    1. Ah, I second that, Micaiah! Sam is one of my three top favorite the L.R. characters. <3

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    2. Plus, seeing as he is a Hobbit, he gets extra awesomeness points xD.

      YES! *fistbumps* We're going to ROCK Camp 2017.

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  13. Another excellent post!
    I love how you point out that these secondary characters also have goals that may (gasp!) interfere with the main character's goals.
    I also like how you mention trademarks. Those are just so fun.
    I admit that I sometimes have a bit of a problem with #4, though.

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    1. Thank you, Blue!
      I think it makes them a little more realistic that way, seeing as (in real life) other people's goal will clash with ours at some point ;).

      I typically use the Nameberry Namehunter (https://nameberry.com/namehunter/#/) for coming up with character names - it helps a ton! ;)

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  14. WOW. THIS WAS SO COOL!

    I think my secondary characters try to take over the story sometimes xD But I LOVE how much friction they create!

    GREAT POST. <3

    audrey caylin

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    1. THANK YOU SO MUCH, AUDREY! *hugs*

      Friction with secondary characters is so fun - I love how it makes the story move along. If you can't already tell, I really love character-driven stories xD.

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  15. Wow! I actually didn't expect this post today. But then I opened my email, and there it was! I clicked immediately of course. You're doing great! :)

    I LOVE these ideas. And I'm using ALL of them, because I have SO MANY secondary characters! And since several of them are kids, and most of those are siblings, there's BOUND to be friction. I have one character in particular who's quite, um, frictional? I like the trademark idea, too. I'll have to think about that one.

    One of these I had a problem with was names. The biggest issue I've had yet was that two of my MCs best friends had similar names, and it would NEVER DO to mix them up. I just couldn't give up Megan's name, so I changed Maggie's name to Lilura. Oh, and one good idea for names is to look up names that mean something related to the character. Maybe their personality or skills. Behind the Name is a great site for that.

    Love secondary characters! One favorite of mine is Ruff the dog, from Swan Knight's Son. "Darn those forces of evil! I'd bite them! I'd bite them hard!" ;) Plus the ones you mentioned: Samwise Gamgee, several Harry Potter ones, and Dustfinger! You know Dustfinger! Awesome!! In fact this whole post is awesome. Keep on writing! :D

    ~ Gracelyn

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    1. Well, I don't have much of a schedule yet - I like to surprise people xD. I'm glad you were excited to see this!

      Ooh, kids always make fun (and unpredictable!) secondary characters!

      I LOVE the name Lilura! It's such a pretty name <3. I have a terrible problem with names, too - I can't write a character if I feel like it's name isn't working. So sometimes I have to try multiple names for one character to see which one clicks with me xD.

      I've never heard of Swan's Knight's Son, but after that quote you shared, I need to go find out more! xD AND YES DUSTFINGER. I feel like no one knows about him, and yet he's one of my all-time favorites! *highfives*

      Thank you for reading, Gracelyn! <3

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    2. Thanks!

      With names, if I can't figure out a character's name, I usually just put a question mark until I figure it out. But that's a good idea to use multiple names. I'll have to see about that.

      Swan Knight's Son is a book by John C. Wright. It's about Gilberec Moth and his dog, Ruff. Gil discovers some very strange things about his world--and other worlds--and decides to become a knight. There are three books about Gil, starting with Swan Knight's Son. I think it's really neat so far, and Ruff is just hilarious. Talks exactly how I think a dog would talk. xD

      ~ Gracelyn.

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