Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Beginning Writers: Primary and Secondary Characters

(reprinted from The Wild Rose Press Greenhouse of Articles)
The Character Who Stole the Show
by Bev Oz©

I continually learn the craft of writing as I plow my way through my first novel. Unfortunately, one particularly noteworthy lesson was learned two-thirds into my book. My Eureka! moment happened at a critique session when one of my favorite critiquers pointed out something I'd suspected, but never really acknowledged. My story lost its focus on the main characters. I was spending so much time developing one of my new, secondary characters I was pulling away from my story line. Even worse, my secondary character had more CHARACTER than my leads.

How did this happen? Upon much reflection, I discovered the truth. I saw this person - literally. My secondary character, Officer Clyde Stewart, was based on a salesperson I met who was hawking electronic equipment. Instead of paying attention to his presentation, I was busy writing down his physical characteristics and his mannerisms. He was such an interesting character, I couldn't resist him.

As luck would have it, I was in need of a new character in my story. I transferred what I noted about the salesman onto Officer Clyde, then added other traits. After writing a bit, I started to enjoy this character. He was fun. So much fun, I wrote more about him than my leads.

The next few paragraphs are actual pieces out of my novel. Notice how much description is put into Clyde Stewart. Also notice how little you learn about my story, my main characters, or my plot in these paragraphs.

A chubby hand patted Brian's shoulder. He turned to see Clyde 'Long Tie' Stewart standing behind him.

As usual, Clyde sported a very long tie to span the considerable distance from the collar of his shirt to the top of his belt. The long tie he wore this evening was an expensive silk with a striking design of red and black geometric shapes. The knot of the tie could barely be seen under his many chins, as Clyde simply had no neck. Instead, the flesh of his chin and cheeks had swelled and drooped to meet the collar of his buttoned-down shirt.

Using both hands, Clyde leaned over and pulled up his pants in the front, then on the sides. He stood with his feet spread apart as though the stance made room for his thunderous thighs, or at least kept his center of gravity low.

Not only did I describe this character and his mannerisms, I even gave the man a nickname and explained how he got the name. But that wasn't the end to 'Long Tie's' description. I went further.

"Brian, lad. So glad to see you this evenin'." He stuck out a pudgy hand glistening with moisture.

Each time the robust man moved, his tie slid from one side of his protruding stomach to the other. The long piece of silk moved back and forth over his belly like a wiper swishing over a very round windshield.

Clyde's personality could not denied. As I wrote about him, I found I wanted to write more. I decided to make him a cocky, lecherous creep who didn't mind offending anyone he met.

"If you do, give me the pleasure of your company." Clyde placed one of his cards in Darci's hand then slid his sausage fingers over her palm. His pudgy cheeks were pushed so high from his stupid grin, his bright eyes were barely visible. "I hate to be too much of a braggart, but I'm a powerful good cook, and I dearly enjoy guests."

Brian's crossed arms stiffened, and his fingers pressed deep into his biceps. The son of a bitch was making a move on Darci right before his eyes. Had Clyde not been a police officer, an officer working on his parents' case no less, Brian's fist would have been planted right in the middle of Long Tie's fat face.

The point to my lesson is this, try to develop your main characters to the point you can actually see them. You have to know everything about them, their likes and dislikes, their fears and their strengths, their physical characteristics and their mannerisms, then put those characteristics and more all over your story. Doing so will help make CHARACTERS out of your characters, and likely characters your readers won't soon forget.

(reprinted with permission from 

No comments: