Updated: Apr 10, 2020
Thanks to the April 4 Writing Challenge concerning main characters, you already know it’s important to make your protagonists relatable.
Thanks to the April 11 Writing Challenge concerning antagonists, you know it’s important to make your “bad guys” relatable.
So guess what this Writing Challenge about secondary characters is going to advise? To make them relatable, of course.
By the time our four-week focus on characters is over, you’re going to be so sick of that word. Even more so than you are now. I certainly could go out and find some synonyms for it (though I probably won't). Maybe, as suggested by Thesaurus.com, something along the lines of:
But even so, the bottom line remains the same. Unless – perhaps – we’re talking about the baddest of the bad guys or the most intentionally stereotypical annoying person…
You’re going to want to create your secondary characters in a way that makes readers see something familiar in them.
That last sentence in the segment above doesn’t mean that every reader has to see themselves in every secondary character. What it does mean is that there’s at least an element inside each secondary character that readers can recognize as being part of their lives.
You want to make them (the readers) mentally and emotionally react to your creations with thoughts like:
That totally sounds like something my mother would say.
Oh my word! He acts like my boss.
The bully down the street when I was 10 would have done something like that.
In short – and here’s that word again since, like it or not, it can’t be stated enough…
Let readers relate to your secondary characters.
Yup, we’re right back to relating. This is important for most character creation, secondary ones included. These figures might not come first, but they still matter to the plot and the main character. So they need to stand out.
Give them vivid personalities. Make them memorable, encouraging readers to care about them, hate them or fear them, probably in the same way your main character does. To do this, think like your protagonist whenever you mention them, taking into consideration each characters’ personality, attitude and circumstances.
And to do that, think about secondary characters you’ve run into before in your own life.
Chances are you know some nice people. If you have a nice secondary character in your manuscript, use those real-life examples as inspiration.
What do they do, and how do they do it? What do they say and how do they say it?
Are there certain words they often fall back on? Certain tones… expressions… gestures?
Study them as closely as you can. Without getting yourself thrown into jail for stalking.
Or let’s say you have a secondary character who’s a total gossip. Once again, it’s a pretty decent bet you know the type already. In which case, your research assignment could be painful.
Embrace it anyway.
If the gossip in question is still in your life, then your mission is to start a conversation with him or her. More than likely, all you need to do is ask how he or she is doing to get this person going.
After that, your job is to take mental notes, not only to the gossip and gossiping, but also to your reactions to them. How you’re feeling in the moment could very well be what your protagonist should feel while interacting with the annoying secondary character you're trying to depict.
In the best-case secondary-character-researching conditions, ask your inspirations what makes them tick. Describe the scenario you’re writing or planning to write to a likely friend or family member, then ask how he or she would respond to those conditions.
That way, you’re out of your own head and into a relatable secondary character’s shoes.
Editor’s Note: Read the next post on secondary characters here.