Rachel Schieffelbein is hosting a bloghop on SECONDARY CHARACTERS, and I decided to hop in! This is my first bloghop, y’all! [I should have signed up with my other site at Blogspot, and I will from now on if I do more bloghops, but for now I've just mirrored the content over there. Follow me if you like!]
Secondary characters done right are the ones who aren’t just there as part of a story, aren’t just there to “support” the protagonist . . . and aren’t obviously appearing to fulfill a function for some purpose ordained by a writer in another universe. These characters breathe. They feel. They have independent emotions and they don’t behave as if they’re less of a person just because they have less time on stage. They feel like they started living when they were born, not when they walked into the protagonist’s life.
One of my favorite secondary characters is Butler from the Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer. Butler supports his underage charge, Artemis, through thick and thin, and is probably the best bodyguard in existence (for a person who really needs one). He’s actually come very close to death more than a dozen times while protecting Artemis, and he doesn’t just protect him physically—he supports him in all his ridiculous evil genius schemes, and his actions are inspired by love for his charge just as much as they are inspired by his sense of duty.
But besides just being a great bodyguard and a loyal protector, Butler has depth. His family has protected Artemis’s family for generations. (His sister, Juliet Butler, is similarly trained, and later protects Artemis’s little brothers, among others.) Artemis didn’t know Butler’s first name until he really almost died because of a promise he made. He’s also fiercely protective of his little sister even though she can take care of herself. He’s a layered dude and an inspiring (if imposing) character. I love what his protection allows Artemis to do in the stories, and I love how he develops certain relationships with the other characters that also braid loyalty and compassion together with competence and badassery. (And the jokes about him being too big to fit in certain cars, chairs, and rooms are delightfully visual and fun for the younger kids who read the books.)
I love Butler. I wish I had one.
Another secondary character I love is Bailey from The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares. Okay, so Bailey’s “job”—in a book where Tibby is the rightful main character of her storyline—is to inspire Tibby to care about the right things and do some tearjerking. She’s supposed to do this by being a sad girl with cancer whom everyone figures will die at the end and exists primarily to teach everyone about the preciousness of life. Too bad Bailey had other plans.
Bailey is inspirational partly because she isn’t trying to be. She isn’t what you’d expect. She and Tibby pretty much detest each other and develop what could only be described as a grudging respect for one another. It was so amazing to see that Bailey’s gruffness and unpleasantness continued to be part of her personality even after she warmed to Tibby and tried to emulate her—because after all, her life is about her, and she doesn’t want anyone’s pity friendship. In stories containing an inspirational kid with cancer, usually they’re angry at the world because of their disease and experience a personality overhaul when they realize their time is limited. Bailey isn’t like that. She’s her. She’s not just a kid with cancer.
I loved seeing her wear those magical pants.
When I write, I try my best not to stick supporting characters into the mix just to do their thing and leave. I don’t want to make them unique by tacking on a catch phrase or a quirky behavior. I want readers to understand them as complex people, with evidence that they have opinions and preferences and life stories that aren’t part of the book. I want them to be as fully formed as any main character—and I want them to be fleshed out enough that if the story happened to be about them, there’d be enough material there to make it interesting. Stories in which the “secondary character” is the protagonist, like Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Gregory Maguire or Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale, are especially wonderful in this way. They show us how the supporting character can be the whole show in the end.
Amazing secondary characters are a good reminder that every character is the protagonist of their own life. Well-told stories should always feature characters with full lives that read like they continue existing outside of the pages.
I primarily use this site to discuss big writing news, occasionally share perspectives, and promote other content. I’d like to continue to have a fairly dignified lifestyle over here, but there is a time and a place for silly, so I have started a new blog over on Blogspot:
I plan to blog about books, personal life stuff, publishing, and of course writing process and product. But there are some things I didn’t really want to clutter up this site with that I can participate in more easily there, and it also has a connectivity factor that this one doesn’t.
Both blogs will of course feature any important news on any of my projects!
Please follow the new blog. It is lonely.
(And just in case you are curious: I called it “In Propinquity” because it is a quote I really like from Keith Miller’s The Book of Flying: “But keep characters in propinquity long enough and a story will always develop a plot.”)
Here’s me on Mary Sues.
This video discusses the “Mary Sue” character—defines what it is, discusses how the term is sometimes misused, and teaches you how to write extraordinary characters without making them Sues.
I was interviewed in 429Magazine, a GLBT issues publication, on the topic of asexuality and how it fits into the queer spectrum. I’m quoted in this article:
Acknowledging asexuality on the queer spectrum by Morgan Welch.
Here’s me on taking criticism.
This video on taking criticism teaches new authors the importance of criticism, how to solicit it, and how to get the most mileage out of feedback they receive.
Many writers—especially newer authors—have a tendency to feel insulted by criticism or prefer to defend their material instead of trying to figure out how to use the feedback. Readers can be wrong, but sometimes you can even take your test audience’s misconceptions and poor reading comprehension into account to make your work better.
The 500 quarter-finalists for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award were announced today, and for the first time since entering in 2011, I didn’t make the cut. I’m actually surprised because I thought I had a better chance at making quarter-finals than I did at making the second round; usually my writing is stronger than my pitching skills. But even though my reviews were not particularly negative, I’m guessing either my reviewers graded me harder than their reviews indicated OR I just had a lot of excellent competition.
My critique partner and friend J.C. Fann did make the quarter-finals and I’m very proud to have been involved in helping prepare the book for the contest, so if you’re interested in downloading and reading/rating/reviewing the excerpt, here is a link to The Queenschair!
And if you’d like to see my reviews and analysis of the comments:
Fellow Inklings Literary client Elliott James has a book coming out in September 2013, published by Orbit!
Here is more about the book, including the cover (designed by Wendy Chan at Orbit):
John Charming isn’t your average Prince …
He comes from a line of Charmings — an illustrious family of dragon slayers, witch-finders and killers dating back to before the fall of Rome. Trained by a modern day version of the Knights Templar, monster hunters who have updated their methods from chainmail and crossbows to shotguns and kevlar, he was one of the best. That is– until he became the abomination the Knights were sworn to hunt.
That was a lifetime ago. Now, he tends bar under an assumed name in rural Virginia and leads a peaceful, quiet life. One that shouldn’t change just because a vampire and a blonde walked into his bar … Right?
Look for more Charming stories to be released soon by Orbit Short Fiction, too!
Here’s a little more info from when the book was featured on USA Today’s blog.