The Overlooked Character

Writing Essentials

Writing Essentials

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I spend a lot of time getting to know my lead characters. I catalog their likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, dreams and fears. But I have learned to put just as much effort into my secondary characters—the people my protagonist and antagonist deal with.

The problem
The scene in question should have been a show-stopper, but it fell flat. Everything between my main character and the sidekick seemed forced and unnatural. I was stumped.

The solution
I tackled the scene from a different point of view. My protagonist is dealing with an acquaintance determined to make life difficult.

It had been a device to move the story along, but I failed to think through why this person so strongly opposed my lead. When I rewrote the scene from the secondary character’s perspective:

  • I discovered Reason and Motive, bringing realism and depth to both the character and the scene.
  • I uncovered new foibles in my hero that I can use to my advantage later.

This exercise reminded me that there are always two sides to every story. It’s our job as writers to get to the bottom of both.

Jennifer Lindsay began the Guild’s Apprentice course while earning her bachelor’s degree in English and has since completed the Journeyman and Craftsman courses.

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4 Responses to The Overlooked Character

  1. Jennifer,

    Great point about knowing even the secondary characters fully. If you don’t, then even if you know how your main character feels about a secondary character, you only have half of the picture.

    Personally, I love writing the secondary characters. I find that my second bananas are more often than not the quirky ones; the smart alecks, or sarcastic song lyric quoters, who are a blast to write.

    Even more so the better I know them. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    • Jennifer Lindsay says:

      Michael, I just saw your comment today. I would have to agree that writing the secondary characters can be more fun than the mains at times. There is just so much you can do with them and through them. I think I also like the mystery of them as well. Unlike the main character whose story is plotted out from beginning to end, the secondary characters have the chance to be a little more unpredictable, and as a reader, I like to imagine what their lives are like when they aren’t in the main character’s field of vision.

  2. Patricia Self says:

    I am just checking out the guild. I love the open format for new writers. Your comments are helpful. I’ll be checking out the courses next. Are there times when not knowing reason or motive can be just as compelling in character development? I have learned the power of a secret…something unknown or unrevealed can also affect character development.

    • Jennifer Lindsay says:

      Patricia, if you haven’t already done so, I highly recommend taking as many of the courses as you can. I went through the 2-year Apprentice, Journeyman, and Craftsman programs, and they are largely responsible for helping me become the writer I am now. The lessons and feedback you’ll receive from your mentor are both challenging and inspiring! I also suggest attending the Writing for the Soul conference if you can. You don’t just have the opportunity to attend workshops there, you’ll network with other writers and editors who will be able to encourage you and keep you motivated. Some of my closest friendships have been initiated and developed through the Guild and Conference. I can honestly say that my time with the CWG is one of the best investments I’ve ever made. Blessing on you and your writing!