Creating unforgettable secondary characters
Hi, I’m Cheryl Brooks, author of The Cat Star Chronicles series of sci-fi romance. Back when I was reading more than writing, I had a fondness for supporting characters. The cool villain, the funny sidekick, the goofy brother, or the offbeat girlfriend—these secondary characters can make or break a book. If they are all stereotypes without distinct personalities, I won’t care about them, but if they’re the ones who make me laugh or grit my teeth, they’re far more than just props to the main characters; they can make a book memorable.
In the paranormal genre—especially science fiction or fantasy—secondary characters can come from anywhere and be any kind of creature you like, and they don’t have even have to be alive. Think back to Star Wars. Who could forget C3PO or R2D2? They contributed as much to the story as any of the people, along with a large part of the humor, which is something that the romantic leads can’t always do. There’s something endearing about a bumbling hero, but you don’t see them very often; we want our heroes to be strong, smart, and sexy.
But secondary characters have no set standards, and I’ve had endless fun creating them—from the hairy wolf-like Nedwut villains to the octopus-fingered Norludians. Many of my secondary characters have been animals—particularly in Warrior, though only the heroine, Tisana, could understand them. In Fugitive, my current release, I’ve taken a creature that would ordinarily be considered an animal and given him intelligence, personality, and the power of speech. Zef is an eltran; a lake-dwelling amphibian with a passion for languages and a fondness for curse words. I had a ton of fun writing his pithy observations about Manx, the Zetithian hero who is trying, with some difficulty, to woo Drusilla from afar.
Drusilla is a wildlife artist, and at the lake house where she stays while on Barada Seven to paint the exotic birds, Dwell, the computer, controls the house, and the housekeeping droid, Klog, takes care of anything else you might need—whether you ask him to or not. He doesn’t talk, but he’s a great cook who knows what you’re craving and can be a very handy fellow to have around. In addition to the non-traditional characters, the Baradan natives resemble ugly orange toads, but they possess beautiful, musical voices, along with a few other interesting talents.
And speaking of talents, often I will decide that a character needs to be able to fly or read minds or whatever, and though adding that trait in an earlier chapter is easily done, the really fun part is when I’ve given a character a specific ability on a whim, and only to discover later on that I have a use for it. It’s as though my subconscious mind knew I would need it at some point, but took my conscious brain a little while to see it.
Whether in books or in films, some of my favorite fictional characters haven’t been the leading man or lady, but the colorful, sinister, funny, shrewd, or outrageous supporting cast. Writers ignore them at their own peril because the hero and heroine can only carry a book so far; they must have a world built around them, and the more fascinating that world is, the more entertaining the book and the better the story.
Let’s hear from you. Who are some of your favorite supporting characters?
Buy Fugitive on Amazon.
I agree, Linda. Those secondary characters can have more quirks and flaws than the lead characters, and those features can be very endearing.
The testimony of a book junkie means a lot to me!
Sometimes I will like secondary characters better than a main one. That’s why I’m so pleased that sometimes a secondary character will get their own book at a later date.
Not only was I taken with Manx and Drusilla but Zef, Dwell and Klog worked for me as well. I totally got off on Zef’s snark:) In my book junkie world, it takes special talent to make such characters come alive for me and to make me care about them. I found Fugitive to be an all around winner.
Zef was very fun to write. He was originally even snarkier (is that a word???), and I was afraid my editor would hate him, but she didn’t, though I did tone him down just a bit!
Whew! Just finished the vacuuming and am REALLY wishing for a Klog who does windows! Klog could probably lay new carpet, too. It would be SO nice to have one.
Oh yes! I’m with Ana, sometimes, even though they are in the background, it is easy to fall in love with secondary characters and hold out hope that the author will give them their own story.
Zef was a wonderful surprise in Fugitive and the snarky humor you gave him was perfection. You think you’re just gonna hate him at first and then you can’t imagine the story without him.
Yeah, we all need a Klog!
I agree with both of you, there should be a Klog in every house hold!
I rank Zef up there as one of the best skidkicks a guy could have. I would love to list more but it’s too early in the morning to think and I haven’t had coffee yet.
I may come back later after coffee and some of those hot buns on your site Cheryl…LOL 😉
Yes, that’s sort of what happened in Rogue. Everyone loved Trag, the other brother, so much that even if I hadn’t already intended to give him his own book, I would have had to do it by popular demand!
PS I not only WANT a Klog, I NEED one!!!
What’s funny Cheryl is that I’ve written stories before and used a side character to come back later and want to give them a huge role.
One of the authors I read, took her side characters, and gave them their own shorter story. I liked that too.
I loved the world you created with Fugitive and I especially loved Zef, Dwell, and Klog 😀 I want a Klog of my own >>
Great interview Cheryl 😀