Writing Tips & Tools

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Lesson 10: Creating Secondary Characters

by Bonnie Calhoun

Today we continue with Donald Maass' Writing a Breakout Novel.

What I am going to endeavor to do here is present truncated versions of each of the lessons in the workbook. This will by no means suffice as an alternative to reading the book...or the workbook. I hope it piques your appetite to buy the books. They are invaluable reading and reference!

Today's lesson is in Section One: Creating Secondary Characters.

Novels are full of as many people as the world. but how believable are the secondary characters who fill novels out. Many are here today and gone tomorrow, and then they act in only one way.

Secondary characters don't have to act like that! They can be as strong as primary characters. when that happens it's because the author has deliberately made them multidimentional, conflicted, or surprising. And that's tough to do in limited space, but it can be done.

How much attention have you given to your secondary characters? Have you taken the time to give them extra dimentions, inner conflict, and larger than life qualities? If not, why not give it a try?

Step 1: Pick a secondary character who aids your protagonist.

Step 2:Create an extra dimention: Write down the character's defining quality. Write down the opposite of that. Now create a paragraph in which this character demonstrates the opposite quality that you have identified.

Step 3: Create an inner conflict. Write down what this character wants most. Write down the opposite of that. How can this character want both things at the same time? How can they be mutually exclusive?

Step 4: Create larger-than-life qualities. Write down the things that this character would never say, do, or think. find places where this character can and must say, do and think those things!

Note: Secondary characters can be the most vibrant and active in a manuscript. They can also be lifeless and cardboard, mere props for the hero...that's a shame!

Follow-up: follow the steps above for a different minor character who supports your protagonist.

Conclusion: You may wonder if the secondary character will get too strong for the story. Don't worry. If your secondaries occupy less page time and do not enact the novel's most significant events, they will add luster to the novel without blinding your readers to your stories true hero.


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