Humans are (for the most part) social creatures. We live, work, and interact among other people every day. To be believable, primary characters in our novels should live in worlds with other people, as well. Hence our need to build worlds for them that include secondary characters.
But filling out our stories with secondary characters isn’t as simple as randomly dropping in the wacky best friend or meddling mother or curmudgeonly boss. Secondary characters aren’t window dressing to make the primary characters’ lives look well-rounded.
Like every other aspect of a book, they should serve the story. We should be able to answer the question, why is this character here? In addition to looking pretty, or ugly, or menacing, each secondary character should do something: enhance the plot, underscore the theme, complicate the protagonist’s life, all of the above – something that wouldn’t happen if that character were taken out of the story. So what happens if you’ve created a convenient friend or foe or foil for your protagonist, but other than convenience, that character accomplishes nothing in your story? Continue reading