Samantha Gentry


Hello to everyone.  I have a rainy day here, so it’s a good excuse to stay in and play on the computer.  This is my first time blogging at Coffee Time Romance’s Coffee Thoughts.  Well…to be honest…it’s my first time blogging anywhere.


Rather than taking a lot of space here to tell you about me, I’d like to refer you to my website .  Check out my bio to learn about my background and also my other writer alter ego of Shawna Delacorte.  You’ll find excerpts and reviews of books in current release.  And be sure to check out my movie trivia contest which runs through the end of February.


While trying to decide on a topic for today’s blog, I was torn between a writing type topic or a more general area of discussion.  The decision came to me while watching a couple of movie last night.  One of them was Murder On The Orient Express with its all star cast where almost everyone in the movie was a major character.  It occurred to me that there were very few characters other than the many primary ones.  So I started thinking about secondary characters and how they can be used to prod, shove and push the main characters into and along the necessary path for the story line.


So, let’s talk a bit about secondary characters.


When I say secondary characters, I’m not referring to the minor characters that decorate a scene and maybe have a couple of lines of dialogue.  I’m talking about the characters who have a prominent place in your story but are not your main characters.  These are the characters you can use to maneuver your main characters into and along the path toward achieving the story goal.  They are a key factor in moving your story along and determining what direction it takes.


In developing these characters you need to decide what you want them to accomplish and how you want them to relate to and interact with your main characters in addition to each other in order to move your story line along to its conclusion.  Let’s take a look at how a set of secondary characters can be used to move a story line in a specific direction.  Remember, it’s not who they are, it’s what they do and how they relate to the main characters and how the main characters respond to them.


Example:  You have a story about a teenager who is the leader of a gang that has been stealing cars for some mobsters.  You have two ways you can go with your main character, in other words, two directions your story line can take and you must choose one of them.  #1: he wants to leave the gang and make something of his life OR #2: he runs his gang with a iron hand and threatens anyone who wants out.


With scenario #1 your secondary characters who will influence the story line can be his girl friend, his little brother, and one of his teachers.  That tells you who they are, but doesn’t tell you how they move the story.  His girl friend fears for his safety and finally gives him the ultimatum of leave the gang or she’s leaving him.  His little brother idolizes him and wants to be just like him, but he doesn’t want his little brother to make the same mistakes he did.  His teacher is mentoring him by helping him with his studies and finding him an after school job.


With scenario #2 your secondary characters can be his girl friend, a rival gang leader, and his contact with the mobsters who pays him for the stolen cars.  Again, that tells you who they are but not what they do to move the story in a specific direction.  His girl friend demands more and more in the way of material things so he needs the money from stealing cars to keep her happy.  The rival gang leader is trying to take over his stolen car business so he has to always watch his back to protect his own interests.  The mobster gives him access to the easy money he needs to keep his girl friend happy and the promise of being able to move into their organization and advance in the criminal world.


Each scenario has a girl friend, but her function is different in the two scenarios so that the character helps move the two story lines in two different directions.


One of the great things about secondary characters is that you can make them as outrageous, unconventional and over-the-top as you want.  You don’t have the same parameters and cautions with secondary characters as you do with your main characters.  The main thing you need to be careful with is not making them more interesting than your main characters so that they don’t steal the show and shove your main characters into the background.


A good example of secondary characters being over the top is the television show Will and Grace.  The secondary characters of Karen and Jack are totally outrageous while the main characters of Will and Grace are more grounded.  However, I think Jack and Karen do nearly steal the show.  But that’s just my personal opinion.


So, I’d like to hear from you.  Any comments about developing and using secondary characters in your writing?  Or any television shows, movies, or books where the secondary characters stood out in your mind with the way they were able to guide the story line?



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