Secondary Characters

 

Before the story begins, not only does our protagonist know what she wants, has known what she wants and has struggled with getting what she wants, but her friends and family have also struggled with their desires.

The overlap is what concerns the reader. Secondary characters are not just in the story in order to allow for dialogue, but to impact what happens to the protagonist, in both positive and negative ways.

Consider the so-called best friend who feeds the protagonist gossip about the boyfriend that causes a breakup so that now the friend can date the boy. The friend has an agenda that negatively impacts the protagonist, causing pain and anguish and forcing her to do something that she didn’t want to do. Now it may turn out that the breakup was a positive step, especially if the boyfriend is hyper-controlling or abusive, but in the immediate, the pain of separation is real.

Your task is to think of secondary characters that could populate your story. Make a list of who these people could be and their relationship to the protagonist. For example, a young person might be influenced by a teacher, an adult by a boss, a sick person by a nurse and a contractor by an engineer.

Make another list of issues that each secondary character brings to the story. For example, the teacher might be emotionally drained due to the illness of her husband, the boss might be up for a promotion if a project is well-received, the nurse might be struggling with paying the rent and the engineer might have lost important designs. The more issues you come up with, the better your options become.

From both of your lists, choose one character and one overriding issue. Your next step is to list ways in which this issue will affect your protagonist.

Your background work is now done. When you write interactions between your protagonist and your secondary character, do not fill space with the issues. Instead, consider the feelings of the secondary character facing the issue, and how those feelings affect the ways in which that character talks to your protagonist.

Write a scene rich with dialogue. The protagonist wants something because all protagonists must want something or there is no story. She meets her friend. They talk. The protagonist is hoping to hear words of reassurance or advice, but the secondary character is consumed by her own desires.

Imagine how fulfilling the conversation will be and what each character gets out of talking to the other.

This will not be an easy task.

Have fun with this one.

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