How do you develop secondary characters? Do you have a favourite secondary character?

Other posts in Rhobin’s Rounds

My answer to the first question is that I don’t develop secondary characters. They introduce themselves to me when a story needs them, and I find out about them together with my readers. Often, they surprise me, perhaps more than people do in life outside my computer (so-called real life).

The main character and narrator of Ascending Spiral is Pip. I felt a compulsion to start on this story after my past life recalls. Initially, I thought I was producing a private record, organising the great deal of information that came to me over about two years.

One morning, I woke with this in my mind: “The first time I saw my love, she had long dark hair with a red band holding it in place, pansy-blue eyes, and a long elfin face that was quick to flash into a shy smile.”

And given this was about my past lives, I immediately had, “The second time I saw my love, she had golden hair, a square face and a terrible temper. She was two years of age, and me four, and when her parents and mine worked in the potato fields, it was my task to keep her from mischief. But as she lay in the dirt and screamed with her face going blue and her heels hammering the ground, that was when I knew I loved her, and always had and always would.”

The same Person emerged later, as Grace, when Pip’s spirit was Amelia, and then finally as his wife in our current times.

Since Pip is a version of me (if only I could be like him), I’ll get in trouble at home if I don’t nominate her as my favourite.

But this is the way it happens. Seek and you shall find. Ask and you will be given. A story needs someone, who comes along, perfect for the job.

Hit and Run has two major characters: 14 year old multiple murderer Chuck, and old lady Sylvia. But Sylvia needed a lever to move Chuck out of his terrible way of thinking and acting — and his little brother Tommy walked onto the stage. He is a traumatised, foul-mouthed little kid who nevertheless steals people’s hearts, and ends up as the focus of much of the story.

But also… oh, how can you choose favourites from among your children? There is Jenny, who is in foster care because her mother is dying of cancer, and who becomes a major motivating force for Chuck-who-has-become-Charlie to work toward a good life. And Sylvia’s daughter-in-law Sandra is a lady I’d love to have in my corner if ever I am in trouble. For heaven’s sake, I love them all, even the baddies.

Guardian Angel is about little Australian Aboriginal girl Maraglindi, but while she told me her story, I found all sorts of other people introducing themselves to me. Early on, Gerald and his mates harmed some little children, killing one. The black magic man’s magic killed the other six, but Gerald survived. I didn’t know why at the time, but as he discovered his future, so did I. God had given him a new life, so he wowed to devote his life to God’s service. He felt terrible guilt for killing an Aboriginal child, so protecting and helping Aborigines became his life’s work.

In fact, the sequel, when I get to write it, will be The Protector, who is of course Gerald.

But my favourite secondary character in that book is Kirsten. Several readers have told me she is theirs, too. We meet her when Maraglindi arrives at school. I knew she’d be treated with hatred and discrimination, but was surprised that Kirsten actually physically attacked her, and threatened to kill her if she told.

From this unpromising introduction, Kirsten developed into a person I could like and respect. How? You’ll have to read the book.


Please leave a comment below. If you don’t want to leave a comment, take it with you.

Then, you can have the pleasure of visiting these nice ladies, who are also part of Rhobin’s Rounds. (Yes, I am the only male.) Please read what they have to say, and comment there, too.

Beverley Bateman
Victoria Chatham
Judith Copek
Rhobin L Courtright
Helena Fairfax
Margaret Fieland
Fiona McGier
Skye Taylor
Connie Vines

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About Dr Bob Rich

I am a professional grandfather. My main motivation is to transform society to create a sustainable world in which my grandchildren and their grandchildren in perpetuity can have a life, and a life worth living. This means reversing environmental idiocy that's now threatening us with extinction, and replacing culture of greed and conflict with one of compassion and cooperation.
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10 Responses to How do you develop secondary characters? Do you have a favourite secondary character?

  1. Judith Copek says:

    Really an interesting post. Depending on the. book, some of my secondary characters come from life, but by no means all of them. You have obviously put a lot of thought into your characters. That brings them alive. And you’re right, sometimes they appear almost fully formed. That’s why writing is so compelling.

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    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      Thank you, Judy.
      In my current work, I have secondary characters who are sentient space rocks, three-tentacled snakelike people, giant squid, etc. All the same, the way they act and think is an amalgam of my past experience with how human people act and think. I am sure the same is true for you.
      🙂

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  2. Yes, I suppose we all put a bit of ourselves into our characters. Sometimes I have more of an affinity with the heroine, sometimes with the hero, and sometimes with a secondary character. That’s why my books so often end up as a series, since the secondary characters are so important to me, I can’t let them go without telling their story as well.

    BTW, husband has told me I must have been a dairy-maid at some point in a past life, because I could give up even chocolate, before I’d give up cheese!

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    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      My wife is Dutch, and has a similar attitude to cheese. She doesn’t put it in her coffee, or her sweets, but pretty well everything else. 🙂
      Yes, the people we create are our children, and often our teachers.

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  3. okwriter says:

    A very interesting post, Bob, and a different way of having your secondary characters find you. I think the way they arrive is fascinating and very intimate. No wonder they’re all so interesting and pull the reader in. Beverley

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    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      Very kind of you to say so, Beverley.
      I honestly believe that every person in any work of fiction is in part a version of its author, and they are all the blended cocktails of thousands of experiences with many people. Some of those experiences may well be from previous lives.
      🙂

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  4. Dr Bob Rich says:

    Thanks for visiting, Rhobin. Maybe you can save on the analyses, and relax? 🙂
    Who says the author needs to be god? I am merely the scribe.

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  5. Skye Taylor says:

    While I do spend considerable time creating my cast of characters before I begin writing, I’ve had walk-Ons who totally take me by surprise and often they turn out to be the most interesting

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    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      Isn’t that the same in “real life” as well, Skye?
      I suspect you also share my experience that the reason someone walked onstage is revealed later in the book.

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  6. Rhobin says:

    Hi Bob. After reading your post I have to admit I’ve had characters show up like that, even with my convoluted analysis of secondary characters.

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