Secondary Characters: Are they merely props?


Secondary charactersRomance novels generally focus on the hero and heroine – the main characters – but as a rule the two are advised, protected or threatened by secondary characters. These members of the supporting cast are, in one sense, plot devices intended to move the story along. However, they should not be treated as wooden props. They need to be fleshed out. By that, I mean they should have their own personalities, problems and motivations. They should be real.

Darlin’ Druid, book one in my Texas Druids trilogy, is as much a western saga as it is a romance shaded with paranormal touches. It’s a fast moving adventure that takes the main characters, Jessie and David, across prairies and mountains, from one setting to another. In each new local they meet secondary characters, some kind and helpful, others nasty or downright evil. All have a role to play in the story, and no matter how small that role may be, each must to some extent reveal their inner selves in order to be convincing.

For example, in the early portion of the book, a train conductor named Higgins has a small but vital function. Other than sketching out his physical traits, I didn’t spend a lot of time describing him, but his actions reveal a lot about his character. He shows himself to be quite brave in the face of danger. Later, he also helps the main characters by exerting his authority, not because he has to but because he feels responsible for something that happens to them. By so doing, he proves himself a decent man.

Other secondary characters play larger parts, acting as guides or teachers for Jessie, helping her learn from her mistakes and mature throughout the book. David, who is several years older than her and much more experienced, still needs to learn a few lessons about trust and the nature of love. Jessie serves as his teacher to a large degree, but her brother Tye also influences David. Other characters help him see deeper into Jessie’s character and force him to admit how important she has become to him. In some cases these people demonstrate kindly motives; others draw Jessie and David closer together by threatening to harm one or the other. Bad guys are almost as indispensible as the main characters, but again, they must be fully formed.

Each secondary character exhibits a unique personality through interaction with Jessie and/or David. For the most important of these characters, I included glimpses into their past – their back stories – explaining why they act as they do. Giving them reasons for their joy, sadness, anger, compassion, etc., makes them three dimensional rather than flat, cardboard figures.

Often, a secondary character from one book appears as a main character in another book, especially in the case of a series. Two secondary characters from Darlin’ Druid are the hero and heroine in the sequel, Dashing Druid. Two secondary characters from Dashing D. will, in turn, be the main characters in the third Texas Druids book. Keep in mind that this trilogy focuses on a trio of psychically gifted siblings who all end up in Texas, so naturally each book focuses on one of the three together with their partner in romance.

In her review of Dashing Druid on Amazon, mesadallas says, “One of this book’s strengths is the way the supporting characters from the first novel transfer into the main characters of the second, while the main characters of the first novel shift into the supporting characters in order for Tye and Lil’s story to emerge. This isn’t always as easy as it sounds and Lyn Horner does it flawlessly.”

I appreciate this reviewer’s compliment. I’m also glad she recognizes how important secondary characters are. They need to be respected and carefully developed because without them there wouldn’t be much of a story.

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One thought on “Secondary Characters: Are they merely props?

  1. Pingback: Creating Great Teen Characters « TeenGirlsthatWrite

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