Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Creating Secondary Characters by June Gadsby

Speaking of Secondary Characters

Secondary characters are essential to make any story work and move on. They are the links between the heroes, heroines and the plot itself. That’s how I always look at them anyway. In fact, my secondary characters are often my favourite creations in any story, whether they be dark and evil or light and humorous. Quite often I find both extremes creeping in and, boy, do I have fun with them.

But where do they come from, these minor actors in the supporting cast, creating havoc or laughter and sometimes both? It can sometimes be difficult or impossible to invent them from imagination alone. The best way, as far as I am concerned, is to take a real person, someone you know well, and weave their idiosyncrasies and anything you find odd or interesting into the character you want to create. Most people do not recognize themselves because their oddities, their habits [which they may not even be aware of] are disguised by the different physical appearance, name or background of the character that ends up in the published book at the end of the day.

My husband has been known to say: “I see you’ve got your mother/grandfather in here again.” I’m not always aware that I’ve done it, but their characters are so fixed in my memory that they seem to infiltrate into the stories all on their own. Of course, the more interesting the character the better, but care has to be taken not to make the ‘secondaries’ appear too unbelievable, even if the real person you take them from is too ‘interesting’ to be true.

I’ve just spent some time with my son-in-law. Now there’s a character and a half. He has plenty to be depressed about in his life at the moment – perhaps always has had – but he laughs it off and claims that he is never depressed. I get depressed just hearing about his life and wonder how my lovely step-daughter copes with it all, but she seems to ignore it and they appear to be very happy together.

But here it is. I would love to create a secondary character that has his problems that are both sad, ridiculous and hilarious at the same time. For one thing, he has a serious phobia. Peas. He can’t look at them, eat them, see other people eating them. He says his three older sisters used to taunt him by lining peas up outside his bedroom door so that he couldn’t come out. The sisters all have their own idiosyncrasies, as does the father of the family. He lives with my son-in-law, who is his full-time carer. I won’t go there, even though he’s doubly interesting – it’s all far too complicated. As is the fact that my son-in-law [and I’m oddly very fond of him, despite all his idiosyncrasies] must telephone one of his sisters every evening and they talk for at least an hour – about what Heaven only knows.

So, a secondary character in the making and I can’t wait to ‘create’ him in one of my books. He claims he hasn’t read any of the twenty-plus books I’ve written, but this week I allowed him to read the first rough draft of FORBIDDEN, which I’m at present working on. I’ve never done this before, so I held my breath and kept everything crossed, because he’s pretty outspoken at times. He said he enjoyed it and was fascinated to know what ‘Lizzie’s secret’ was. Lizzie is one of my secondary characters and not terribly interesting - yet. He was most frustrated when I wouldn’t tell him and spent the next hour or two trying to trick me into revealing Lizzie’s secret. I told him he would find out when he read the published book. And, of course, the clue is in the title – for all the characters’ ‘secrets’.

Yes, it was a fascinating and inspiring few days. 

Now, I’m ready to start Chapter Three of FORBIDDEN, when I may or may not reveal Lizzie’s secret – but not to the son-in-law!

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