Why secondary characters are important

May 24 19:05 2017 Kev Woodward Print This Article

Characterisation is central to the success of a novel. Find out why you should not neglect the secondary characters in yours ...

You've worked tirelessly on crafting your protagonist and the perfect antagonist,Guest Posting but what about your supporting cast?

Secondary characters are an essential part of any good script. They are integral to the plot and often interact with the main character, propelling the storyline forward. A secondary character can be anyone from your protagonist's world: a friend, a relative, a colleague, the local butcher, the hairdresser, or the town clerk.

In general, characters come in three kinds:

  • Primary

  • Secondary

  • Tertiary

Tertiary characters play a minor role and should be thought of as extras. In contrast, secondary characters are recurring and play a more central role.

JK Rowling peppered Harry Potter's world with a whole host of secondary characters. For example, Ron Weasley, Harry's loyal best friend who, despite his lack of magical prowess, is always there when Harry needs him. The all-knowing Professor Dumbledore who helps orient Harry's moral compass. And then there's Severus Snape, a character who constantly provokes Harry to question himself and his motives.

Secondary characters are important for 3 main reasons: to establish setting, to develop the protagonist and to add texture to the plot.


Establish Setting

A well-crafted secondary character will help to establish setting. Tertiary characters can also fulfil this function; however, due to their proximity to the protagonist, secondary characters reveal deeper levels of detail about the world you have created and your protagonist's place in it.

Secondary characters help demarcate the boundaries of the world you've erected. They make it intelligible.


Develop the Protagonist

Secondary characters serve one primary purpose: to develop the protagonist.

Secondary characters provide access to the protagonist's life and personality, directing the reader's attention into mental areas that might otherwise remain hidden. For example, a serious and committed cop in a hardboiled detective story might be shown to have a softer side by incorporating a love interest character.

Whatever their disposition, secondary characters are your main character's friends, enemies, relatives, and associates, as such they provide an important point of contrast to the main character. What does the protagonist find amusing in his/her best friend? What does you protagonist admire about his/her parents? Questions that are answered implicitly in your protagonist's interactions with secondary characters, revealing contrast and adding texture to the protagonist's profile.



Add Texture to the Plot

Secondary characters have a stake in the unfolding of your story, directing your protagonist in both overt and covert ways. This adds meaning and texture to the plot. Deeper levels of meaning can be provided by secondary characters using symbolism and figurative language, particularly metaphor.

Whomever your secondary characters are, they need to be authentic, so it's important to avoid stereotypes. A script with well-rounded secondary characters suggests a writer who not only really cares about their story, but also really cares about the reader.


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Kev Woodward
Kev Woodward

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