I was originally going to write a post about secondary characters and how they can add so much to a story when I realized what I really wanted to ask, especially when I read slush: “Why does the heroine have no friends?”
Memorable secondary characters can affect a book. The people who immediately popped into my head were Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice, Sir Fotherby Nugent in Sylvester and all of Bridget Jones’s friends. I realized I really wanted to write about how a writer can and should create a full and complete world for her hero and heroine by including specific, unique, memorable secondary characters.
So often I read a romance novel, or a mystery or a sci fi adventure, where the heroine’s world seems to revolve around her career and that’s it. A token friend or two is mentioned, but once the hero and heroine meet – especially in a category romance – they seem to live in a bubble. Don’t they have any friends? Don’t they go out for coffee (think of the endless brunch scenes in Sex and the City), take lessons or belong to a book club? If they are incapable of maintaining a friendship why should the reader believe they can maintain a romantic relationship?
Some writers have clued in but only deliver in the most simplistic manner. A token friend arrives on scene to help move the plot forward. Yes, that’s helpful but oh-so-predictable. Couldn’t these friends be memorable? I loved Bridget’s super successful banker friend who spent hours on her mobile in the loo talking about her boyfriend; the male friend who was living off the residuals of his one-hit wonder (I am thinking the movie version here). These characters are only in short scenes but her friends help both make the book and Bridget. I would not have liked Bridget nearly as much or believed Darcy could fall in love with her unless I thought she was a good friend.
Think of Mr. Collins. He’s pompous, insecure, pious, critical, a social-climber and he has a thing about closets! He sets plot points in motion: his proposal to Elizabeth; his subsequent marriage to Charlotte; Elizabeth’s visit with the married Collinses. Elizabeth’s reactions to him and to his marriage to Charlotte show differing characters beliefs (or hopes) about the roles of true love and marriage. Charlotte states she cannot afford to believe in love. Elizabeth, no matter the costs, does.
Mr. Collins, always greatful to his patroness Lady Catherine de Bourgh
Many of the secondary characters in Georgette Heyer’s novels are just plain funny. If you haven’t met Sir Fotherby Nugent and his tassled boots in Sylvester rush out and get your copy now and start reading. (It’s one of my personal favorites.)
So if you want to make your story really come to life, if you are looking for original and creative ways to express your ideas, don’t forget your secondary characters!
“Polished” Hessians — very important to Sir Nugent!