To pick up where we left off in June about secondary characters in story or memoir, there are many types of secondary characters in writing. Some secondary characters come to the writer at the time she begins creating the story. I think of these characters as the primary secondary characters, the ones who are most involved with the protagonist and appear the most in her story.
While I knew my family would be in my memoir journey attending college, I never thought about including some friends and professors. But they are secondary characters, nonetheless.
Secondary characters can be thought about like this:
Primary secondary characters are the ones involved closely with your protagonist; i.e. family members, close friends.
Initial secondary characters are the ones that come to the writer at the beginning of the story writing. Let’s say you need a pivotal character to help move the plot along; i.e. a police officer or doctor, a co-worker, or murderer.
But there is a third kind of secondary character. They are the ones who come to you as you create the story. The unexpected acquaintance at a bar or café or the cab driver or stranger you meet at the airport. Someone who offers key information to help move the plot forward or to a satisfying conclusion.
Secondary characters can help establish what’s considered normal in your story world. In my case, my family establishes what life is like for Victoria prior to starting college.
But the family also becomes not so much enemies for the protagonist like in fiction, but rather obstacles at times during Victoria’s college journey.
My family’s role in the memoir is threefold. They set up the memoir story world before Victoria begins her college journey, they become the impetus for her to actually begin college, and they become both sounding board and obstacles along her journey.
The third kind of secondary characters holds important information for the protagonist. In my college memoir, this kind of secondary character is a friend who informs Victoria that she can attend a community college part time. A professor encourages Victoria to slow down and listen to the students around her. The Phi Theta Kappa Advisor informs her that the Ivy League is a possibility. These are the characters who push Victoria beyond—she believes—her capability. They force her to see and then seek the possibilities in her college journey. A scary endeavor to be sure. They move the memoir story forward.
*Please feel free to offer comments or ask questions on any secondary characters in my memoir. This helps me to move forward in my writing.*
An example of a secondary character who holds a key piece of information is like Moaning Myrtle in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets when she informs Harry where she heard a male voice and saw the yellow eyes coming from the circle of sinks in the third floor girls lavatory.
All characters require a backstory to help them feel real to the readers. The backstory doesn’t need to be as involved as it is for the protagonist. Remember, backstory is what happened to the character BEFORE the story present. In Myrtle’s case, she was a student at Hogwarts who was killed in the girls’ lavatory because she wasn’t a pure-blood witch.
Secondary characters should continue through the story so the reader isn’t wondering, “Hey, whatever happened to Moaning Myrtle?” In J.K. Rowling’s Potter series, Myrtle pops up whenever she has information to share with Harry and the reader. In other words, whenever she can move the story forward. And that’s the key.
Why exactly do you need secondary characters?
In reality, we don’t go through life alone. Neither should our protagonists. We have [and need] family and friends, work associates and strangers who help us with life issues or events. Don’t cheat your protagonist out of needed connections throughout your story. No one really lives in that deep, dark cave, seeing to their own personal needs. Never having troubles. Content. Happy.
[Although sometimes, I’d like to hide in a cave to be able to finish this memoir, one with electricity and internet hook-up of course.]
The protagonist is not the only character who affects the story world. Secondary characters impact your protagonist’s journey. Remember, your protagonist is still driving the story, but the secondary characters can support or impede the main character’s journey. But all the characters need to move your story forward. And each character needs to be different and have an important part in the main thrust of the story.
This is particularly difficult in memoir.
Story is not only about the external plot details and obstacles. Remember that story is the internal struggle of the protagonist. Secondary characters add tension to the internal problems of the protagonist.
In every story, the tension and problems are shown through scenes, the lifeblood of story. These are the interactions between characters, not just narration.
Like I said before, in memoir or fiction, each secondary character needs to have a specific personality, a reason to be, that benefits the main storyline. As the writer, you include only the facets of secondary characters’ lives that pertain to the story you are telling.
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30 thoughts on “Types of Secondary Characters in Fiction or Memoir Part 2 #AuthorToolboxBlogHop”
Definitely an interesting way to look at non-protagonist characters. It's also interesting that you noted at what point some characters come to us in the writing process. Great post!
I find secondary characters cover a large spectrum. Some walk on and off the page never to been seen again and others… Well, I can't get rid of them. hehehe
Anna from elements of emaginette
Hi Victoria – I imagine bringing everything together and tying all the characters together can be difficult … I guess one way is to remember a specific piece of advice or quote they gave you … and that will recur later as your story follows through … the person may not reappear … but the advice or idea (quote) will – cheers Hilary
Love your take on secondary characters 🙂 Just don't let them know they're not the hero in this story 😉
Ronel visiting on Author Toolbox blog hop day: Running Your Author Empire
The Myrtle character was a great example. Thank you for this. Really helps.
Good suggestion. One that resonates with me is that all characters must move the story forward. Readers don't want distractions. Put those in a separate novel!
Secondary characters are hard enough in fiction. I can only imagine how difficult they can be in memoir where you can't include everyone you ever met, but have to sift through and find the characters who truly move the story forward. Great tips!
Thank you so much for your kind words, Raimey. It's always a pleasure seeing you here at Adventures in Writing. Yes, characters come to the writer at different times of the writing process. What a writer does not want is a character who swoops in at the end of the story to either save the day or offer the key piece of information to the protagonist.
Thanks again for your note here at Adventures in Writing. Have a great day!
Yes, Anna, I agree. Some characters you just can't seem to be rid of. But like I told Raimey above, writers need to remember not to introduce a secondary character too late in the novel.
It's always a pleasure seeing you here at Adventures in Writing. Thanks for your comment. Have a great week!
It can be extremely difficult, Hilary, to tie up all pieces of the story to be intricately connected. But you are correct. The character doesn't necessarily need to reappear in person, but what he or she said or shared to the protagonist needs to be present in the story logic.
It's always a pleasure seeing you here at Adventures in Writing. Thanks for your note. I hope all is well!
Thanks so much, Juneta. That means a lot to me. Thanks for your note on Adventures in Writing. All best to you!
Isn't that the truth, Ronel. Lisa Cron of Story Genius says that every character thinks he's the hero of the story. Only the writer knows otherwise. And, of course, the reader. If we do our job right.
Thanks for visiting Adventures in Writing. All best to you!
Thank you for your kind words, Dawn. I'm so glad it helps. Sometimes a writer sharing what she knows helps her own self to understand these concepts better. Thanks for visiting Adventures in Writing. All best to you!
You are so right, Jacqui! Everything in the story you are creating must move the story forward. And as you say, if it can become its own story, then move it over to a separate novel.
Thanks for your note on Adventures in Writing. All best to you!
Thank you for your kind words, Iola. It's always a pleasure seeing you here at Adventures in Writing. It's also difficult to include those real live secondary characters in memoir because I can't change who they are or how they act. Man! It's tough!
Thanks so much for your comment on Adventures in Writing. All best to you!
I love how you talk about planning some secondary characters and how some form as we are deep in the writing stages. Those are the most frustrating ones 🙂 Another lovely post 🙂
Great post. Secondary characters are tricky. Does the author name them? How many words are dedicated to describing the character? The answer depends on the character and the story, of course. Once thing to always ask is: what is the purpose of the secondary character? If there isn't one, I try to delete the characters. So much to think about on this topic.
Secondary characters are always interesting – sometimes they can be tricky to get just right. Thanks for sharing! 🙂
Hi, Erika! Thanks for visiting Adventures in Writing. Gosh! I think a lot of secondary characters are frustrating–especially in memoir where they are real people and I can't manipulate them to make a story work. I need to select actually people and events to make the memoir journey work instead.
Thanks again for your kind words here at Adventures in Writing. Have a great day!
You are absolutely right, Kristina. There is much to think about secondary characters in story. All characters need an explicit purpose in the story. Otherwise, get rid of them.
Thanks so much for sharing your insight here at Adventures in Writing. Have a great weekend!
Any character is tricky to get just right in story, Charity. Thanks so much for your comment on Adventures in Writing. Have a great weekend!
Your blog and wisdom about secondary characters, once again, make me realize that a memoir shouldn't cover too broad of a spectrum or too long of a time period. It should be a chunk in one's life that is uncovered in detail.
My story has two main characters, the protagonist and the antagonist. But, these two people run into sailing friends often. Yet, only temporarily, because of their lifestyle. Snippets of conversations with secondary characters move my story forward, but most of them don't return later on… Tricky stuff!
Insightful and informative post as always, Victoria.
Thorn from my Disaster Crimes series is a secondary character who came along while I was writing Seismic Crimes. He wanted to be in it more than I had planned, and I'm glad I listened to him. I love adding him into my stories and now search for more moments where he can pop in. 🙂
Very great post. I simply stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed browsing your weblog posts.
It's always a pleasure seeing you here at Adventures in Writing, Liesbet. Thanks for your kind words. They are greatly appreciated.
Secondary characters are intended to move the story forward. And these characters are very tricky to keep real in story–especially memoir.
Thanks again for your kind note here at Adventures in Writing. Enjoy your weekend!
Sometimes we need to listen to our secondary characters, Chrys. Sometimes, they know what they're talking about. So glad Thorn is still a part of your Disaster Crimes series. I like the character.
Thanks so much for your comment on Adventures in Writing. Have a great weekend!
Hello and welcome to Adventures in Writing! I'm so glad you visited us. Thank you so much for your kind words. They are greatly appreciated. All best to you!
Great post. I always learn something. Good luck with your memoir!
Thank you so much for your kind words, Michelle. I truly appreciate them. My point is to always help those who read my posts. Thanks so much for your comment on Adventures in Writing. Have a great weekend!