Secondary characters can bring out the character in the protagonist and can increase opportunities for sub-plots. These characters are important to the story, not just by-standers. They don't just blend in and become part of the furniture, and are great fodder for creating conflicts. Conflicts can be created through unbalanced opinions and goals, conflicts of interest, personal and family situations. The possibilities here are endless.
Even if the book is about the protagonist's personal journey and he encounters very few people along the way, there are still secondary characters to get to know. For example, I am thinking of "The Remains of the Day", where nothing really happens (a bore of a book if you ask me!), but characters of the Lord the protagonist butler works for and the lady the butler is going to visit are significant characters without physically appearing in a scene.
Creating larger than life secondary characters is harder than you might think. A good piece of advice from the writer CS Lakin says that you might need to imagine what they'd be doing if the story wasn't about the protagonist - give them a life of their own.
One of the ways I use secondary characters is to introduce them gently, almost as casual observers or unimportant roles initially and then expand and make them intrinsic to the story the second time we come across them in the book. You need to give them defining characteristics and an origin and do not allow your reader to forget them!
Memorable and Loved Secondary Characters
Timon and Pumba - The Lion King
Haymitch Abernathy - The Hunger Games
Watson - Sherlock Holmes series
Mr Chow - The Hangover
What do you think? Is it time to put your secondary characters first?
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