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Every story has a hero/ main character/ protagonist. They’re the vehicle in which your readers enter and experience your story through. The hero, however, does not travel alone. Even if they may seem like loners, there will always be other characters they interact with–one, two, or several specific characters that help the hero along their journey. These are secondary characters.
The secondary characters help the hero learn their lesson. (See this post about the hero’s life lesson.)
THE IMPORTANCE OF SECONDARY CHARACTERS
For the sake of this blog, I’m only going to talk about the use of one secondary character. This person can be a love interest, friend, neighbor, the folks at the bakery, the antagonist even. The list is endless.
Again, their role is to help the hero go on their learning journey, either physically or metaphorically. The plot does not revolve around the secondary character, but their role is still significant. Not only are they there to push the hero along, but their world is the complete opposite of the hero’s world. They showcase what the hero does not have or is not. For instance, if the hero is a girl, the secondary character may be a boy; if the hero is an only child, the second character may come from a big family. This dynamic plays a crucial role in helping the hero learn their lesson.
How? you might ask. Simple: the secondary character has or are what the main character wants but does not need. The need is the hero’s lesson. (If you need help creating characters for your story, I have a Novel Writing Kit just for that. )
It’s also important to note that the secondary character also has their own goals and motivations. It is just as important to focus on this character as it is to focus on the hero. Understanding the secondary character’s backstory creates a more compelling story overall.
LET’S LOOK AT BOOK EXAMPLES OF SECONDARY CHARACTERS:
- Fitzwilliam Darcy of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. He’s male, prideful, and has lots of money. His role is to help the heroine, Lizzy Bennet, who comes from a middle class family, learn to be less prejudiced.
- Laurie in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. His role is to showcase what the role and responsibilities of a boy/man is, in comparison to the four March sisters, who are going through their changes from girlhood to womanhood. Laurie is also an only child, in comparison to the sisters, who have one another.
- Hermione Granger is one of many secondary characters in JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. In comparison to Harry, Hermione is a girl, she’s book-smart, does all her studies and homework, follows the rules, she’s good in every sense possible. But she lacks friends…until Halloween. Her role is to show Harry what life could be like if he were to be a know-it-all.
I actually love the use of the secondary characters in Harry Potter and Sorcerer’s Stone. I highly recommend it as study/research material as you come up with your own secondary characters. What warms my heart about several of these characters, too, is that they metaphorically tell Harry, “Hey, you’re great the way you are. Don’t stop being you. We don’t care what your backstory is, you’re an awesome kid. And we all need you.” And this is a lesson Harry must learn in order to, well, save the wizarding world.
LET’S LOOK AT SECONDARY CHARCTERS IN MOVIES:
- Samwise Gamgee in the Lord of the Rings. Some backstory: Sam is actually Frodo’s gardener. He’s also Frodo’s best friend. His role, as a secondary character, is to not only support Frodo in getting the one ring to its destination, but to showcase goodness in all ways possible. Sam is loyal, humble, kind-hearted. His heart is so pure and selfless that even the ring cannot tempt nor manipulate him, in comparison to Frodo.
- Haku, in the animation Spirited Away, is a part of the spirit world. He is strong-willed, determined, and brave–the opposite of the hero, Chihiro, who is young, meek, and naïve. He teaches her to be brave and to never give up. Because if she does, she’ll fade from not only the spirit world but her own human world.
- Samantha/Art3mis in Ready Player One. Samantha is not only a love-interest, but she’s knowledgeable about the bad guys, whereas Wade, the hero is clueless. With Samantha’s help, Wade realizes the importance of living in reality and spending time with friends and family instead of a screen.
Secondary characters are an integral part of any story. Their purpose is to assist the hero on their path of growth, to learn their life lesson. Although the plot does not revolve around the secondary character, they are still a part of the overall storyline.
As you create characters for your writing, consider the role of each secondary character. How will they help your hero learn their lesson? And who will they be to the hero. Use the examples above to help you create the secondary characters in your story’s world.
Good luck! And have fun writing!