As writers, we all lavish attention on the main characters of our stories. But what about the minor characters? Too often, a story’s secondary characters get short shrift during the writing process.
And that’s a shame, because it’s often the minor characters–the second bananas–who often carry the show. Don’t short change your reader by giving them secondary characters who are generic or cardboard: the “leggy blonde” who is tossed in for a frisson of sexual tension; the “beefy cop” who turns up at a crime scene; the “tired-looking” hotel clerk. Those types of descriptions tell the reader that the writer needed to include a particular character to move a scene forward, but didn’t put any effort into bringing the character to life.
All secondary character need to live and breathe for the reader. In his book On Writing, Stephen King said that every character in a book thinks of himself or herself as the main character. Whenever that character is on stage, even briefly, he should be presented as if a spotlight is shining on him.
When it comes to strong secondary characters, a few standouts come to mind: Dill in To Kill A Mockingbird; Melanie in Gone with the Wind; the wealthy, pompous Lady Catherine De Bourgh in Pride and Prejudice.
Which secondary characters are the most memorable for you in thrillers or mysteries? As a writer, do you struggle with the challenge of portraying second bananas?