Secondary characters are found everywhere, movies, shows, books. Whether you see them or not, they’re there behind the scenes, pushing the story forward. Sometimes they’re incredibly well-rounded characters that threaten to steal the spotlight (Charline Montgomery in Sara’s Moon) and other times they are purely a plot device (Oliver in Darkness Defined). However they manifest and for however long they stay, rest assured they are providing a key element even if you’re not aware of their true purpose.
You know in cartoons how there always seems to be something innocuous in the background, but it’s colored a slightly different shade as the rest of the backdrop? Over time we learn that this differentiation is a dead giveaway that some kind of interaction is going to occur with that object and it will probably be important, so pay attention. Secondary characters can be a lot like that, subtly influencing the movement of a story all while the reader and sometimes even the Main Character (MC) continue to dismiss them.
That being said, some secondary and even tertiary characters are larger than life and demand your full attention, as in the case of Charline, but that doesn’t mean you know their contribution to the story. Often times, their influence is more intimately woven into the narrative at large. They give the author and the reader a way to experience details and nuances that otherwise might be missed or delivered too bluntly. And perhaps most telling of their appearance in a story, is how the MC interacts with them. Are they annoyed at their presence? Why? What changed when the secondary character showed up? How is the MC handling the news they’ve brought? How does this affect what we already know or thought we already knew about all parties involved?
Honestly, it’s no different than everyday life. Only you are the MC of your own life, but you’re constantly interacting with other characters: family, friends, significant others, strangers. How you approach and behave in each situation with these people is indicative of your own true nature, one might even say character 😉 . Even tiny interactions can reveal a world of information about someone’s emotional state, their current struggles, and underlying driving force (*cough* plot).
Just for fun, I’ll give you another snippet from Hart’s Betrayal, because yeah, I just finished it and it’s on my mind. Also, I feel like you kind of deserve to see more samples of the awesomeness you’re deigning to follow. <3 As you read and ultimately get to the end, think about how the MC’s true motivations and feelings are revealed by a character that only makes an appearance for 1,500 words.
Warmth suffused the back of my neck as massaging fingers worked to relieve the kinks that had taken up residence. The magical fingers worked their way up to the base of my skull. A small groan fell out of me at the instant relief that flowed in their wake. I didn’t want to turn around just yet. I didn’t want it to stop. And certainly didn’t want to leap into yet another verbal sparring that would end in us nearly coming to blows. His fingers just felt so good. For a few seconds longer, I just wanted to enjoy the feel of Elijah’s touch on my skin. It couldn’t last, but another minute wouldn’t hurt.
The choice was taken out of my hands however when the massage gradually slowed and then stopped altogether. I slowly lifted my head and turned to confront my demons. To my infinite shock, it was not Elijah standing behind me, but someone I didn’t even recognize. The man was certainly not dressed for police work, with vibrant long sleeves, nor had I ever seen him at the precinct before.
“What do you think you’re doing?” I asked as calmly as I could, doing my best to mask my disappointment.
He gave what I assumed was supposed to be a charming smile and extended one hand down in greeting. The other remained firmly placed on my shoulder which was gradually tightening back up again. The man didn’t even have the decency to look abashed. “Name is Jason Mack, I’m Joel’s cousin.”
I reluctantly accepted the handshake, though I still wasn’t pleased that he’d had the gall to place his hands on me like that, forget the fact that I’d been perfectly okay with it a minute ago when I’d believed it was Elijah. “I’ll ask again, what do you think you’re doing?” I repeated doing everything in my power not to snap at the young man.
A slight blush tinged his cheeks. At the recognition of the familial resemblance, who he was finally sank in.
Jason snatched his hands back. “Oh, I’m sorry. I just… Joel asked me to check on you. I can see why; you’re super stressed. I studied to be a chakra masseuse, and… I…. Uh… thought I could help,” he finally finished, his embarrassment now firmly set in. “Oh, God, please tell me you’re Detective Hart. Biscuits! This always happens to me. Why can’t I think before I do?”
I gave the man currently freaking out a subtle once over. Mack had been right, his cousin was cute, not my type at all, but then Officer Mack also didn’t know my type trended furrier. My cheek twitched as I bit back the impulse to lash out. It wasn’t his fault he wasn’t Elijah, he was just a good person. It was a harsh reality of my life that I didn’t come across too many of those. First Mack, now his cousin. It would seem his whole family was comprised of genuinely decent people.
Confronted with the poor man’s awkwardness, I had no choice but to admit that most of it was my fault; if I hadn’t been so absorbed in my fantasy, then I would have been aware of someone walking up behind me before they ever had a chance to lay a finger on me.
“Thank you,” I finally said.
“Yeah, no problem. It’s just, Joel said you were cute, he failed to mention you were freaking gorgeous,” he babbled.
I raised an eyebrow, but kept any comments to myself.
Soon enough, Jason realized his mouth had run away again and scrambled to catch it. “Oh God, I’m doing it again.” He covered his face in mortification and I had to diligently check my own smile from emerging. One thing that was definitely going for Jason Mack was that he was adorably awkward.
I placed a firm hand on his shoulder and he peeked at me from behind his fingers. “Deep breath, Jason. Thank you again for the massage. It did help,” I reassured him. It was the truth, even if it hadn’t helped in the way the young man had intended.
“Yeah?” He asked tentatively.
His shoulders sagged in relief and I relinquished my hold on his shoulder.
“Was there anything else?” I asked as gently as I could. It was hopefully abundantly clear that whatever chemistry Officer Mack had anticipated between me and his cousin was definitely not there.
“Joel was right. You’re a little intimidating at first, but you’re actually kind of nice.”
I blinked back at him and kept my surprise to myself. That was now twice in less than a week that someone had told me I was nice.
He smiled openly, then leaned a little closer. For one insane moment, I thought it had all been a ploy and he was actually leaning in to try and kiss me, then he whispered conspiratorially, “Also, you’re kind of scaring other people around the office.”
I glanced off to the side to see a cluster of rookies eyeing us like they were waiting for a bomb to go off. I couldn’t hold back the sigh escaped me. “I’ll try to work on that.”
He gave a small laugh and shook his head. “But seriously, on a professional note; I recommend making peace with whatever has you in such knots before it eats you up.”
“Regrettably, it’s not quite as easy as all that,” I admitted. I neglected to mention that I was pretty sure it was already too late for that.
“Perhaps. But nothing worth having ever is,” he said with a wink as if he somehow knew what, or more appropriately who, the actual source of my tension was. His unexpected wisdom imparted, he turned and sauntered out, regaining confidence with each step he took.