Almost a year ago, I wrote an essay about how connected books have arisen for me as a writer: link. Has it been that long? This has been on my mind because I have been tweeting about secondary characters recently. This essay develops my ideas further.
Main characters don’t exist in a vacuum, they have lives and friends they interact with. These secondary characters inspire me to consider writing their stories. Thus, I envisioned four books in the sweet and sensuous series, staring off with a Coast Guardsman going to college, starting over, and getting married: Rick and Annelise.
The other heroes and heroines are relatives and friends of the couple who were all members of the wedding party, like Roger and Denise.
Here, I want to consider the role of secondary characters in helping develop the main characters’ story, and their role in providing a bridge to their own stories. Because connected books have a collection of key characters, they are in an out of each other’s lives. They have a history, and it’s beautiful. These foundations provide a basis for rich and deep interactions.
How else to demonstrate what the hero or heroine is like than to show them in contexts where they interact with the people they are closest to? How else to show their growth and development, and especially as they grow from one book to the next? Who else is going to give the main characters support as they journey into their happily ever after?
I’m a pantser writer, not a plotter. So it’s impossible for me to imagine down to the tiniest detail, all the aspects of a story’s plot from beginning to end, including the subsequent stories in a series. If I took that path, I would never write, as I would get caught up in minute details that need not get hashed out so early.
If I took that path, I would have probably written all four novels then published them after years and years of work. But that isn’t me, if I work hard, I want to see the immediate results of my work!
So in Rick’s book, the secondary characters were there, I knew who they were, and I had a sense of their personalities. But they were not as well developed, and that was fine with me. It would have been too much, I think, to work at developing them to the point that they might have overshadowed the main characters. Beyond that, they weren’t talking to me, so I didn’t know much about them!
As I was finishing Rick and Annelise’s book, Roger and Denise were the ones I was hearing from. Now it was time for Rick and Annelise to become secondary characters. But they were fairly well developed. I just needed to have them around, and it happened naturally. Denise was Annelise’s younger sister, and Rick was Rogers’ good friend. Both couples were bound to meet up in different ways, visiting each other, and spending the holidays with their families.
My current work in progress, the third book, takes place right after Rick and Annelise’s wedding. Lauren was partnered with Don, but Rick and Annelise were already on their honeymoon and unavailable for conversation and support. So who else might offer that support? The secondary characters who will star in their own novels in the future.
So Roger is a key secondary character here. The fun part is that his book takes place a year or two after the wedding, so he is pretty well developed, but I’m showing him in a different way. In addition, it gives the reader a sense of what he was doing in the meantime, and especially since I alluded to it in his book. Lauren and Don had gotten married, Roger knew about it, but Denise didn’t.
What is interesting is that I get to address earlier interactions that Roger was fully a part of in his book, but from a different perspective, Don’s. I even had them say some of the same things in the current novel, giving a hint at what was going to happen in Roger’s book! In any interaction, each person will have a different perspective, remembering and emphasizing different things. So I know what Roger thought. What did Don think? What did he notice or remember?
Kim is a key secondary character as well. Through her interactions with Lauren, I’m getting a better sense of who she is, and what her story should look like. That is important, because I will need to have a blurb about her book to put in at the end of Lauren’s book. As a matter of fact, I just had a breakthrough moment this morning, when things came together regarding her.
One crucial point is that it’s so important to know the stories, inside and out. How did I describe Don in book one? What was Kim like then? Lauren? Will my development of them in their own books and as secondary characters match that? I recently caught myself in what could have been major mistakes, some discrepancies since book one. On a developmental editing level, what I had in mind for Kim’s story in her own book didn’t match how she was presenting herself in Lauren’s book.
It’s one thing to catch mistakes, but if I’m making changes, I better have a darn good reason and explanation why.
The writers’ life: detail oriented and creative. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Copyright Barbara James. All rights reserved.