About those Minor/Supporting/Secondary Characters...

Rich characters to interact with the H/H (hero/heroine) or lack of them can make or break a story. Finding the right balance is key, but how is that done?

The answer is study. And that's where knowing what publishing company and line you're targeting comes in handy.

For instance, in shorter books--category/series of 50,000-55,000 words--it's imperative to keep the H/H together as much as possible. Focus on them, and have the supporting characters there to support them--or play a little matchmaking, as sometimes happens. You'll be glad you did and won't end up like I did with my first book, going back to rewrite scenes where the heroine spent time talking to the hero's step-brother, instead of interacting with the hero!

There is a little addendum to this. In category romance, each line (i.e. Desire, Intrigue, Superromance), there are certain things that set them apart. A good example is Harlequin American Romance, which centers a lot around small towns. A few quirky and memorable characters, thrown in for balance can be a good thing. Just don't let those minors take over the story or the action/dialogue between the H/H.

In longer books, especially single title (80,000 words and up), there's a lot more room to add deeper and more interseting secondary characters. So much so that these characters often have subplots of their own in which their conflict is introduced and solved by the end. Just remember to solve theirs first, before solving the big conflict between the main H/H of the story.

So who makes good secondary characters? Family members, including parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Best friends of both sexes can add a lot, especially when needing to show that the heroine doesn't hate men, just that particular hero. (grin) Co-workers and roommates can work well. A short discussion or even a few lines from a secondary character can give a hero or heroine a new slant on the relationship he or she is dealing with...or battling.

If you're not sure how to find the balance, read. Read the types of books you want your story to be and pay attention to what's going on. Using a highlighter to mark where secondary characters are involved is one idea of how to single out those sections.

Last, but not least, be careful that secondary characters don't take over the book, outshining the hero and heroine. Give them quirks to make them stand out, but don't leave the H/H lingering in the wings. It's them readers want to know and follow through the trials and tribulations of love.


Reese Mobley said...

Since I write longer books, I love to make my secondary characters as quirky as I can. It's where most of the humor comes from. Most--but not all. (grin) Sometimes, you get lucky and the secondary characters carry over into a spin-off book. And that's what makes editors happy. Or so I'm told.

Rox Delaney said...

I've thrown in a couple of quirky characters, even in shorter books. The January book has an aunt of the heroine and heroine's sister that could steal the show if I'd let her.

You're right, Reese, those longer books do give more freedom when it comes to more and quirkier characters. Now to try writing a longer book... But not this week. LOL

Penny Rader said...

Great post, Rox.

I know you have a new series in the works. Will characters from one book be in the other books?

I'm a huge fan of series. Some of my faves are J.D. Robb's In Death series, Marilyn Pappano's Bethlehem series, Maggie Shayne's Brand series, and Robyn Carr's Virgin River series.

I'm in the planning stages of a series of my own. I guess one of the challenges will be having main characters being secondary characters in some of the books and secondary characters being the main characters in their own books.

Any tips on main characters who will be secondary characters and vice versa?

(Love your new picture, btw!)

Rox Delaney said...

Happy Saturday Morning, Penny!

After all the tracking and tracing I've been doing, it makes me wonder if series are worth the trouble. I'm joking! I love reading series, too. Writing them is proving more fun than I'd expected.

At present, I'm working on a 4-book series, but it could be longer. I have as many as 7 for this one, depending on whether my senior editor goes for them. :)

Yes, there will be recurring characters! That's what I love about series. We get to see what's going on in the lives of characters from previous books. This series spans about 5 years, so there'll be weddings (of course) and new babies! I even have a running thread about 2 very minor characters throughout the books. And when I say characters, I mean "characters". Watch for Vern and Esther and see if you can discover their secret.

More in a second...

Rox Delaney said...

I did a series for Silhouette Romance, but it wasn't marketed as a series. And because the senior editor wanted to see something "different", the second book of the three came out a few years after the first.

What makes a series? A common theme that ties the stories together. Sometimes it's Weddings, sometimes Babies, sometimes a Family, sometimes Careers - as in Special Ops Forces. Mine is the setting - Desperation, Oklahoma, a small (fictional) town. Because I write for Harlequin American, setting is as important as the characters.

I started with the hero of the first book (THE RODEO RIDER), then wrote his best friend's story (BACHELOR COWBOY). The heroine in BC has a sister, who's the heroine in the third book. The unknown sister of the hero of the first book is the heroine in the fourth. Then there's the brother who hasn't been seen or heard from for 15 years, the new doctor (female) in town, her brother, and a granddaughter of one of the minor characters. They all tie in, they all appear scattered throughout the series. Even many of the minor characters. We get to know a LOT of people, just like in real life. That SIX DEGREES thing, I guess. LOL

As for keeping track of it all, I'm visual, so I have copious amounts of lists, charts, etc.

(It's an OLD picture, but it's friendly. LOL Thanks!)

Penny Rader said...

I can wait to read your Desperation, Oklahoma series, Rox! Sounds like great fun. Maybe I could get a peek at your charts, etc. for the series?

About 15 years ago I fell in love with Rachel Lee's Conard County series. I recently learned she has new titles out, the next generation of Conard County. The one I just finished had one of my favorite heroes (now 15 years older)from the third book in the series, Miss Emmaline and the Archangel.

Rox Delaney said...

Penny, you're in luck! I spent a lot of yesterday updating and printing tracking charts and stuff. I even bought a bright pink notebook to put it all in so I'd be able to see it. LOL

Age charts, calendars, character lists, you name it, I probably have it, and then you can work up your own and personalize to suit you. I'll bring them to the next meeting.

I keep a 3-ring notebook for each book, no matter what, so I know where to find things, like scribbled notes, storyboard, etc. Everything but the scribbled notes is on the computer, but I like to have a printed copy. With a series, I still have those for the individual books, but I also have a narrow notebook with all-series information, such has those age charts and character lists. I don't have to hunt for who appeared in what book, because it's recorded.

I know my brain's limits. Too much junk to filter through to find what I need.

Oh, and we're going to be blogging about Record Keeping during the second half of this month (August), and I'm sure there'll be lots of great tips to pick up and revise to our individual tastes and habits.

I should be ashamed to be killing so many trees. :(

Starla Kaye said...

I, too, love good secondary characters and try to use them in spin-off stories as much as possible. And it is tricky to introduce those secondary characters and keep them from taking over a story sometimes.