Friday, September 17, 2010

Cast of a Thousands

In keeping with the theme of Abundance this month, I thought for a while about what my favorite things are to have in abundance. The never ending basket of chocolate at my day job? Wonderful friends? Fan mail? Honestly, I love each and every one of those items and I can never have enough of any of them. But I am an author and so my mind eventually circled back to the art of story-telling. And do you know what I love in abundance?

Secondary characters.

How random is that?

But these are the characters who make movies, television shows and books really sparkle. They add depth and dimension that wouldn’t be there without them. They make you want to know their story and they tell you so much about the protagonist with very little effort. One of my favorite movies of all time is Casablanca. I am a huge Humphrey Bogart fan, but for me, it was the secondary characters who made that movie the classic it is – from the self-serving Captain Renault to the loyal, piano-playing Sam to the idealistic Victor Laszlo and everyone else in between. Each one of these characters and their interaction with Bogart’s Rick Blaine tell you all the important things you need to know about our cynical hero.

These days, I find myself fairly addicted to HBO’s True Blood and a little sad that season three has already ended. True Blood has an ensemble cast to be sure, but Sookie Stackhouse is most definitely the main character, and in my opinion – the least interesting. Of course it’s hard to compete with an enigmatic Viking vampire; an over-the-top flamboyant, good-hearted short-order cook; a ladies’ man older brother who wouldn’t have a prayer on Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader; a tough-as-nails best friend who has the worst sort of luck; a good-guy shape-shifting bar owner; and I could go on and on. The secondary characters make this show and then some.

As an author, I use secondary characters on a regular basis. Sometimes it’s to add a bit of color. Sometimes it’s to move the plot forward. Sometimes it’s because I know there’s a story down the road with that character’s name written all over it. In A Certain Wolfish Charm, I knew immediately that secondary characters Lord William Westfield and neighbor Prisca Hawthorne would have to get a story of their own at some point. I didn’t know it then, but the story eventually became The Wolf Next Door. In Tall, Dark and Wolfish, broken wolf Lord Benjamin Westfield traveled north of the border to Scotland in search of a healing witch whose legendary powers could return him to the Lycan he once was. Unfortunately, poor Ben discovers the witch he seeks belongs to a powerful coven. These particular witches may be my most favorite secondary characters ever. The young women were so intriguing – so enchanting (pun intended) – I knew each one would have to be developed more fully and most likely in a book all of her own. I’ve spent the last year working on the other witches in that particular coven. And as I finish writing the final book featuring a Còig witch, the first, The Taming of the Wolf, is just getting ready to hit the shelves. And already I’m wondering which of my most recent secondary characters will get to tell their own story next.

Who is your most favorite secondary or supporting character and why? Would the movie, show or book be the same without them?

17 comments:

  1. What a wonderful reflection on an aspect of writing I'd entirely to appreciate. I use the secondary character to reinforce the brotherhood of my trilogy heroes, and when a secondary character starts agitating for some point of view scenes, I know he (or she) is likely to end up with his or her own book. I call this the spider plant effect, with each book sending out shoots and runners that can become new books. Abundance right before m' very eyes!

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  2. Lydia, You do such a wonderful job writing secondary characters.It's no wonder they go on to have fantastic books of their own.

    I will tell you my favorite, but it's not somebody the other readers will recognize because it hasn't been published yet. Ketterweil. :)

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  3. Grace ~ I love the reinforcement of brotherhood! That's great. :)

    Clarissa, Clarissa, Clarissa ~ I don't even know what to say to you. As my critique partner, you have read every word I have ever written. And I am so happy that you still adore Lord Ketterweil, however - you know as well as I do that his story will never see the light of day. I am starting to wonder what it was about him that has so resonated with you though. Hmmm. :)

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  4. I'm always up for a discussion of secondaries.

    Georgette Heyer is the queen of secondary characters. They are often priceless in their own right. She makes the ruthless hero of Sylvester, or The Wicked Uncle comprehensible, and in the end, moving, through her skillful use of secondaries.

    Grace, I like the spider plant analogy. It's very illustrative of my own process.

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  5. I'm always up for a discussion of secondaries.

    Georgette Heyer is the queen of secondary characters. They are often priceless in their own right. She makes the ruthless hero of Sylvester, or The Wicked Uncle comprehensible, and in the end, moving, through her skillful use of secondaries.

    Grace, I like the spider plant analogy. It's very illustrative of my own process.

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  6. I love secondary characters too. Sometimes I have to be careful not to let them take over.

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  7. What a great post. I love secondary characters too. I think they give the story more flavor and make it more valid. I love it when a secondary character takes shape and you see their story emerge and wa la! you realized you have your hero or heroine for another book. I have to be careful that I don't overuse.

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  8. Casablanca - my all time favorite movie - love it! I also appreciate the wonderful secondary characters in Heyer novels and many others. They ofter serve an important function in the growth and understanding of the main hero, and are just plain fun!

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  9. I'll have to go with MM on this one. Georgette Heyer is the top when it comes to having a great supporting cast!

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  10. I love those secondary characters too, Lydia!And your witches sound wonderful.
    Shakespeare has great secondary characters. My favorite is probably probably Mercutio, from Romeo & Juliet. I always thought someone should write his story - I don't know if it's ever been done.

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  11. I sometimes like secondary characters better than the main character. They can be more eclectic and colorful because the author doesn't have to worry so much about making them unlikable or having them do unforgivable things. There's a freedom there you can't afford your hero/heroine who must remain redeemable.

    My own secondary characters like to try to take over my story often. The naughty things!

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  12. I love secondary characters as well. When I'm writing, they always seem to develop into something unexpected, and then half the time they start demanding a story of their own.

    Now I have an excuse to do some re-reading of Heyer!

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  13. I've said many times that my favorite secondary character is Mr. Darcy's uncle George. Dr. Darcy sprung to life completely without my planning and I love him more than I ever imagined. Dare I hope he gets a book of his own? I do hope.

    But many other characters have wiggled into my heart. I totally agree that secondary character make the story.

    Great post!

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  14. MM ~ Kudos on the Heyer suggestion!

    Shana ~ I totally agree. Sometimes secondary characters have to be watched carefully so they don't take over the story.

    Anita ~ That SO happens to me all the time. ;)

    Amanda ~ Awesome! Another Casablanca fan. *sigh* They just don't make movies like that anymore. :)

    Cheryl ~ Agreed!

    Joanne ~ Ah, the bard! The master of secondary characters. Love it. :)

    Olivia ~ LOL. Putting some characters in their place is a necessity.

    Abigail ~ I am so familiar with those demanding secondaries. :)

    Sharon ~ I hope Dr. Darcy gets a story too!

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  15. This is a great topic, Lydia. Secondary characters sometimes spring out of nowhere when I'm writing. I have no idea why they've made an appearance, or what they hope to accomplish, but then everything falls in place. That aha moment is the best.

    As far as some of my favorite secondary characters go, I love Showtime's Dexter. Every character on the show is unique. No cliches to be found, which is lovely.

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  16. Hi Lydia,
    I really enjoyed your post. My favorite secondary character would have to be Lafayette from "True Blood". It's my favorite series and he's one of the main reasons I watch it. You never know quite what to expect with him.

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  17. My secondary characters always morph into more interesting people than I originally create. Part of the magic of writing. :} Loved that you paid homage to them in your post, Lydia.

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