When I started writing my first romance novel, getting 50 000 words down was intimidating. Because I didn’t know any better, I used whichever device I could think of to add to my word count. So, I wasn’t entirely surprised when feedback of my earlier works highlighted those devices as crutches (which they were). As it turned out, my favourite crutch was using secondary characters.
It’s easy to add a character into the mix to brighten things up between your main characters. Easier, still, to do so when you’re running out of ideas to make your plot work and still have 10 000 words to write. But if you’re adding them for the sake of adding them, your reader (and editor) will pick that up. That character you’ve added solely to make your heroine jealous? Yeah, she probably shouldn’t be there.
That’s not to say secondary characters are pointless. They absolutely have a place in your book. They just have to serve a purpose. The first way you can do that is to…
Make Your Secondary Characters Help the Hero or Heroine See Something About Themselves That They Hadn’t Seen Before
This might seem fairly straightforward, but it can be quite hard to do. For example, in the first draft of The Tycoon’s Reluctant Cinderella, my tycoon, Blake, had a half-sister he was quite close to. While their relationship did an excellent job of humanising Blake (him being an intimidating alpha male and all), it only did so to the reader (and, to be honest, to the author). Blake’s sister played no part in the necessary introspection he had to go through to be with the heroine. So, eventually, she was cut out of the final draft.
In my current work-in-progress however, my hero’s sister helps him to see that he’s created his own version of past events, which he’s internalised. This, of course, has become an obstacle between him and the heroine. Since his sister knows his past and personality, she can call him out on his crap. This is especially useful as the hero and the heroine were not yet at the stage of their relationship where she could serve that purpose. After his conversation with his sister, my hero begins to realise some of his demons are of his own creation, which helps him to be more honest with the heroine.
The second way you can make your secondary characters serve a purpose is to…
Use Secondary Characters to Bring the Hero and Heroine Back Together
Let’s be honest: sometimes our characters need a real kick in the butt. Often, this needs to happen after the black moment. For whatever reason, the hero and heroine are no longer together, and one (or both!) of them needs to be reminded that their love for the other is more important than what’s keeping them apart.
Maybe your heroine has said no to your hero’s proposal because she’s afraid of committing after her parents’ divorce. Having her meet a stranger who’s had a successful marriage because they chose to would be a great way of making her see her future is in her hands. Or perhaps your hero has been absolutely miserable without your heroine, but his fear of love has prevented him from reaching out to her. A friend or family member can help him see that being miserable means that he’s already in love, so he might as well find happiness while he’s at it!
Secondary characters can be a useful tool in an author’s arsenal, or a weapon of destruction. But if you give them a purpose using these simple tips, your reader might end up loving them as much as you do!