What is the primary function of secondary characters?

The term "secondary character" refers to any character that, as the name suggests, contributes to the story but does not carry the narrative themselves. There are many different understandings of this term, one of which asserts that a secondary character must assist the primary characters. Indeed, providing the main characters with a sounding board as a form of support is a form of assistance; however, the true mission of any such character is to add depth and interest to the plot and storyline. The whole event's Secondary characters can be found in various media, including television, written stories, and even video games. Some examples of these types of stories and games include.

A secondary character has a personality and some degree of permanence in the story, but decisions and actions are not the primary focus of the narrative. In broad terms, a secondary character is a character that has a personality and some degree of permanence in the story. As is the case in a great deal of television programming, supplementary characters frequently get their own stories or are the focus of individual episodes. Despite this, the completion of a story is not dependent on any of these characters in any way.

A supporting character can be classified into several categories. These can be used to help identify the role of a character in a story. Not all secondary characters are positive influences or allies, and they do not all have to be related to the protagonist. Some secondary characters never meet the protagonist and may be friends with a villain. Negative characters are sometimes referred to as leaves.

The secondary character's role in the story can vary greatly depending on the type of story. For example, this character can give the protagonist something to do or act as a dialogue partner. Despite their disparate roles, one of the hallmarks of good storytelling is that supporting characters are easily distinguished and have strong, fully realized personalities.

Some story types have many secondary characters that may frequently change because they are unnecessary to the plot's continuation. This is true for many television series, where the need to keep an actor on the show can be challenging. Of course, supporting characters aren't always critical to the continuation of a series, but losing a character can cause problems for storytellers.

Not all secondary characters function in the same manner. Their role in the plot is incidental and functional: they do not carry the story with them; instead, it is the story that briefly visits their home before moving on. This vision of their role, which is significant but limited in time and scope, conditions all the advice that follows.

Secondary characters are defined by their stereotypes

Not their actions define a secondary character, as there is often not enough room in the novel for the reader to see them act and perceive all sorts of subtleties through their actions. Instead, secondary characters embody straightforward, easily recognizable stereotypes.

The less frequently a character will appear in the novel, the thicker the strings used to define them must be. For example, an innkeeper appearing in a single scene will be remembered as a simple "grumpy innkeeper,” In contrast, a recurring secondary character will be described as "a cowardly but polite squire from a good family." A simple formula consisting of a few words defines a secondary character. There is no need to write his entire biography.

Secondary characters are memorable

As secondary characters have limited time to leave an impression on the reader, blandness is prohibited: they must have personality and leave an immediate mark in the reader's mind to add color to the narrative.

A boring character runs the risk of being immediately forgotten and reduced to a plot element, such as an obstacle, an adversary, or a source of information. Give them at least one distinguishing trait: a physical trait (tall, fat, one-eyed, hunched), a flaw (stutterer, dirty, suspicious, cold), or a reputation element (the best swordsman, the unluckiest person in history, the sole survivor of a disaster, etc.).

You should avoid caricature, but unless you're writing a psychological novel (in which all the characters are typically the protagonists), you shouldn't worry too much if this lacks nuance. Reserve finesse for your primary characters; the others are merely there to add some vibrancy to the setting.

The secondary characters change little

The main character's characteristics are that they change the story, which we had ample opportunity to observe. In contrast, a secondary character should change little or not throughout the novel. His psychological journey is of no interest to us; what matters is his role in the story and how he can contribute to the main characters' growth.

So, to summarize in broad terms: a secondary character will remain the same in each of his appearances throughout the novel unless the changes he undergoes affect one or more of the novel's main characters.

Suppose the sharp-tongued peasant woman loses an eye because the novel's main character, a young hero, does not know how to protect her due to overconfidence. In that case, this physical change only exists because he serves the main character. Similarly, suppose the young recruit at the police station becomes cynical after being exposed to police corruption. In that case, this can provide the impetus for the main character to develop in a thriller. In either case, the changes observed in secondary characters serve as the plot's climax.

Secondary characters have a function in the plot

Frequently, a supporting character will be defined more by their role in the narrative than by their inner characteristics. Secondary characters are plot elements in the same way that the setting, natural disasters, twists of fate, and revelations are: they complicate the life of the main characters by opposing them or by stealing what they covet, and they facilitate it by delivering helpful information or objects, and they motivate them by assigning them missions, requesting their assistance, or committing heinous acts. Nevertheless, they exist solely for the limited purpose they serve in the narrative. The novelist's talent lies in creating the illusion that these cardboard figures have a life beyond the scenes in which they appear, but from the perspective of the novel's construction, they play a simple role.

Secondary characters have connections

While a main character's social ties define them, those surrounding a secondary character are purely practical. For example, consider the function of the informant in detective fiction: to connect the protagonist-investigator with other characters who will provide leads and deliver information.

This web of human relationships merges (again) with the plot. Suppose the connections between the main characters enrich them. In that case, the connections between the secondary characters are either resources at the service of the main characters or sources of annoyance when an unsatisfied adversary calls on his friends for help.

The secondary characters have particularities

The secondary characters are distinguished not by their actions or flaws but by their unique characteristics, eccentricities, and quirks. Generally, having a unique idea to amuse a stooge is sufficient. But, more importantly, there is a risk of confusion.

Insofar as the secondary characters are primarily defined by their role in the story or by their occupation, it may be interesting to give them a trait that is the polar opposite of that: the fragile little girl who saw the assassin sneaks a cigarette at every opportunity, the tough guy in the underworld is an avid karaoke fan, the chief accountant is hard of hearing, etc. It requires minimal effort to give a secondary character depth.

Secondary characters mirror the main characters and the world

As we have seen, secondary characters exist to enhance the plot, but they can also provide depth to the setting or even the main character. For instance, if they both belong to the same organization or practice the same profession, their existence can shed light on the protagonist. In addition, their similarities and differences will provide the reader with benchmarks for a better understanding of the main characters.

A secondary character can also embody an organization since it is through him that we will discover it: the little apprentice of the Guild of Magicians will have the purpose of making us better understand the functioning of his organization, as well as magical arts; the police investigator of the police offers both a cop figure distinct from that of the investigator who serves as the plot's protagonist, but through him, we discover the functioning and thwarting of the police force.

Secondary characters have language tics

It's unnecessary to overthink how to talk about a secondary character. As with other details, it is usually enough to give him only one singular characteristic, no more. Thus, if your character is familiar with everyone, speaks of himself in the third person, expresses himself in monosyllables, or is excessively courteous, the mission will already be primarily accomplished, for the rare appearances where this type of character obtains lines of dialogue.

Secondary characters have a simple name

Usually, secondary characters will be memorable because of their role in the plot and the few special signs you have given them. But, unfortunately, we rarely remember their name. As a result, it is not always essential to baptize them (their function may suffice, or a simple element of description: the butcher, the little mathematician, the curly hair).

If you give them a name, choose something simple, no more than two syllables if possible, and limit it to a first or last name (but not both) as much as possible. It is useless to clutter the reader's head with this kind of detail unless, for the reasons of the plot, he must remember it, for example, if the sympathetic university professor crossed at the beginning of the novel ends up being the victim of a murder, in which case it will quickly turn into a subplot, and therefore a topic of conversation. It will therefore need a real name.

Secondary characters are simple

Novelists are like gardeners: they want to pamper their characters like so many magnificent flowerbeds, to add cuttings, stakes, protection against parasites, and countless details. We must resist this temptation. In a novel, there is a limit to the number of details that can be effectively communicated to the reader before he cracks up. Focus on your main characters, and keep your secondary characters simple.

Here are resources I recommend to get more in-depth knowledge

Storytelling 101 teaches you how to write compelling stories worthy of commercial success. This is best for screenwriters, novelists, filmmakers, videogame writers and storytellers.

Children’s Books 101 teaches you how to write stories that children will love. This is best for aspiring children’s book authors and storytellers.

Owl AI is the revolutionary AI-powered content production platform that helps storytellers, writers, and bloggers of all subject matter easily create highly-polished content.

Success, Money & Mindset Subliminal is a self-hypnosis recording that we recommend to new writers to help with focus, concentration, creativity, and motivation.

Shadow Work Journal: 240 Daily Prompts contains inner work exercises related to relationships, anger, anxiety, self-love, healing trauma, abandonment issues, depression, forgiveness, etc.


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