Fictional friends. Or ARE they? Our authors talk secondary characters, how real life can influence the fictional world and confess to sneaking in a real life friend or two...
Aja - When Art Reflects Life
Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars. - Khalil Gibran
I'm an only child, so most of my time playing with my toys, at least when my mother was busy being an adult, was spent alone. It may sound sad to some, especially those of you with siblings, but having so much time to myself is, in fact, the reason I'm a writer. My imagination ran wild, conjuring up friends, and even siblings, as well as exciting situations I was unlikely to ever get in if I had a younger brother or sister to tag along and be a chaperone.
I share this fact about me for a reason: when it comes to my writing I’m most comfortable writing when my heroine or hero has very few to no siblings and no more than one or two friends, though they may have a larger extended family like I had. But that one or two friends are usually very important to my heroine’s or hero’s life, like my few but very close friends are to me. As a result those people can catch the attention of my readers more easily. I think...
For example, Cami in I Am Yours is Amara’s best friend and her story, which includes being involved with an “unavailable man”, becomes a source of conflict between her and Amara, which left readers with a sense that there was more to come in Cami’s story, even if it’s merely to see how Cami gets out of her current situation. They were right. Cami’s story will continue in my next solo release, Love’s Required.
How did I know she needed her own story? It was simple for me; her life was just as fascinating as Amara’s, even though I was not shining the spotlight on her the moment she appeared in the book. She has hopes and dreams, as well as a past and a future. She has love and disappointment, and joy and pain. She has a great personality and finally, I felt, no I knew, that she deserved it. She deserved me helping to redeem her. And as luck would have it, another secondary character will be the one who helps her find that redemption.
In the Unexpected Series that I’ve written with Roy Glenn, Maya’s friend Stacy had a certain thing
about her. Readers have expressed it as her gift of comedy, but I always felt it was in her honesty. When characters are honest with themselves I find it easier to see them, to know them and to write them, and though Stacy’s background is not as polished as that of Maya, it was all her imperfections, that made her the perfect go-to for her friend to share her fears and her thoughts about her love interest, Roman. As a result, we got to know that Stacy was a diamond in the rough, only waiting for the right man to discover this about her. So, Roy and I decided that Stacy deserved her shine in our next story in the series, titled The Pursuit.
What I discovered about these secondary characters, Cami and Stacy, and what they have in common with each other are not that they yelled or screamed to get their time all alone to themselves, but that they were flawed and yet could still be found standing beside their friends, encouraging them, loving them. Sometimes upset at them, but still loving them. Sometimes, laughing with them or at them, but loving them. The had their own pain but stood by waiting while I wrote about someone else’s healing, about someone else finding their love, and they waited.
But now it’s their time.
Aja's latest release Good Old Soul is about a free-spirited woman and a man who didn’t want to tame her. For more information about her books and her writing check out her Fanpage, her Amazon Author Page, sign up for her mailing list or follow her on Instagram and Twitter.
Geri Krotow - The Best Friend
Every flower arrangement needs a couple of showy blooms, but that blush peony or scarlet parrot tulip, while stunning on their own, take on a whole new level of pretty when surrounded by baby’s breath or ferns. I try to keep my heroine and hero front and center in my stories, while adding sprigs of villain, best friend, relatives, work colleagues.
This sounds easy but is very, very hard in practice. Too often I become intrigued by a secondary character who was only meant as a vehicle for the heroine to share more of herself with us. An endearing secondary character that readers want to know more about can be a boon, though, when writing a series.
A best friend is my most common secondary character, and in Reunion Under Fire, Silver Valley PD 6 (August 2018), the heroine’s best friend, librarian Portia DiNapoli, jumped off my keyboard onto the page so naturally, I knew she’d have to be the heroine in a future SVPD book. And she is—I just finished writing Snowbound with the Secret Agent, Silver Valley PD 7 (January 2019) and Portia was an incredible heroine to write—strong, resourceful, brilliant. Yet while I wrote Reunion Under Fire, I had to keep Portia at bay to make sure she didn’t overshadow Annie in any of their scenes together. It’s always a juggling act for me. As a reader I love seeing well crafted secondary characters, but I don’t like it when they bog the story down. As a writer, I strive to make the secondary characters interesting enough without inundating my reader with useless distractions.
My favorite secondary character of all time is in When Harry Met Sally, the movie with Meg Ryan as heroine and Carrie Fisher as her best friend, Marie. Marie’s character is crazy to find her Mr. Right, and we get to see her find him. But there’s never a doubt that Sally is the main heroine, and her romance with Harry is the main story line. As much as I love to read a full “bouquet” of characters, I enjoy writing the foils for my heroines and heroes. Another reason I love my job so much!
Mollie Blake - When Real Life Sneaks In
Let's explore the pros and cons of inviting family and friends into your romance novel.
I’m not talking literally here. At least not in my case—I never include anyone I know in my sexy, romance suspense stories, especially not my husband!
I’m referring to secondary characters who can enhance, or confuse your story. Is there a line to be drawn in the part they play?
It’s fair to say, you can 'show' a lot about your protagonists with the use of secondary characters. It’s a great opportunity, for example, to reveal secrets or information to the reader about one of the heroes, that another main character may not be privy to. I used an identical twin brother, a younger sister, and even a former lover, to reveal snippets of information about the main character, Gabriel Black, to my heroine, Grace McGuire, in The Secret At Arnford Hall. She even managed to glean information from his chauffeur, but it wasn’t what she expected.
It’s great fun to allow these secondary characters to weave between the leads, shaping them and helping them evolve through the pages. But there are pitfalls.
Authors often have to rein their principal characters in, especially at the beginning of the story. Or perhaps that’s just me? Anyway, it is even more important to control your secondary characters. Their role is to enhance the heroes’ story, not steal it.
But that doesn’t mean you have to handcuff or gag them—can you tell I write naughty romance? They can still entertain or intrigue your readers. In fact, that should be obligatory. Otherwise why are they there?
You could say romance authors have it easy—two main characters (or even three!) who gain their HEAs at the end of the story, with a few family members or friends coming to their aid along the journey. Crime writers may have a whole train-full of suspects to keep in order, and these authors require the skill to give equal prominence in order to avoid revealing the culprit too early. Some even include a chart of character profiles to help readers remember who is who.
Let’s not forget the skill of the author who can entwine not only the principal happy couple, but who can give the reader the delight of knowing a secondary couple has reached their HEA too. I am, of course, referring to Jane Austen, who did it not only once. We were relieved when Bingley finally “grew a pair” and made Jane Bennett the happiest girl in the world, just before Elizabeth earned the title. Then sisters were doing it again when Austen wove her magic in Sense And Sensibility.
And of course, we mustn’t forget the benefits of having created strong secondary characters. The chance to give them their own story. Elisabeth Hobbes successfully did this with the villain of one of her Medieval Romances. The scoundrel, Sir Roger, went on to become The Rogue Knight in a novel all of his own.
But getting back to that pitfall. The stars of my second novel Guiltless are the enigmatic, OCD burdened, Byron Lord, and successful, but bored, business woman, Lauren Chandler. Byron is on a mission to provide job security for his off-beat workforce and he needs Lauren’s cooperation. She demands certain 'benefits' in return, but there is a complication in the provision of those benefits in the form of another man—a secondary character called Travis.
Now it just so happened I began to write my first novella just before Black Opal Books published Guiltless. The American Best Man is due out at the end of July, and I gave the leading roles to two secondary characters from Guiltless. So I was quite pleased when a reviewer for Guiltless commented “It was well written and I loved the characters, although I warmed to Lauren a little more than Byron and actually preferred Travis as a leading man...” The reviewer gave the story 4 stars and a headline: Seriously hot book alert!
Yet I never thought the short part played by a certain American would steal the show. No one else has made a similar comment, but every reader is different, and as they say, you can’t please them all, although we continue to try.
So craft those secondary characters into believable, indispensable roles, and in some cases, you may want to imagine the tales they, too, could tell.
Do your family sneak into your writing? Do you wish the Mariannes and Janes to perdition, or cross your fingers that Best Mate Number Two will get his own sequel? Share your thoughts with us in the comments or join the PHS discussion on this subject on Social Media!
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