Saturday, February 25, 2006

Friends or No friends - The dilemma of secondary Characters - Writing Tips From A Beginner

Ahh the dilemma of secondary characters....

To have them or not to have them, this is the question. Its all too easy to fill in a blank page or two with people. Friends of the main characters, work associates, family. It makes perfect sense that our main characters would have other people in their lives but the simple fact is that in a shorter romance novel - there just ain't always room for them! No matter how much we may love them or how desperately we may need a 'ploy' to advance our story cos we're stuck.

So if there is one rule I have learnt of late it is this - If they don't advance the story then get rid of them!!! They are there as SECONDARIES and nothing else so if your main characters have a conversation with them then that conversation has to move the story along. In the conversation there should be a short lead into something more important or a moment where our main characters work through a thought process with someone who knows them. We all know that women are the great talkers; they rely on friends to talk through their problems to help them think through their dilemmas and to help with a solution. Maybe even to bemoan the fact that they're having a rough time or the best time of their lives! Its what we do. But in a romance, unless that conversation reveals something we didn't know or moves our character onto a revelation or an emotional turning point of some kind then its just a cup of coffee and a gossip!

Short contemporary romances are character driven, at least for the lines I work in and that means that everything is about the journey that the two main characters are on. Secondary characters, although adding an extra element of shading or colour, should be in the background of this main journey. So unless your secondaries do or say something to help the story along... DELETE THEM. If you're determined that the reader meeting them will give a brief insight into the personality or motivation of our main characters or assist in an emotional breakthrough of sorts... THEN KEEP IT BRIEF.

They can be terrific, they may even lead to a second story of their own. But they are SECONDARY. And I'm off to stick that on a post it note to my screen as I start my new book. Five weeks to deadline... lol...


allyblake said...

One thing I picked up from a wonderful day long tut with Donald Maass, was to do your all to combine characters.

Write out a list of all your characters and 9 times out of ten you can combine a couple and have that one character perform two needs.

It makes for a richer, more tightly entwined story that way too.


Donna Alward said...

ALLY! I so agree and learnt that too from The Donald! (although regrettably not in person).

I try to keep my secondaries down...inevitably I end up cutting some secondary action, so I end up with roughly half what I started with.