Monday, November 28, 2011

Also Starring... and Walk-On Parts.

aka Secondary Characters.

People rarely live in a vacuum. Even the prisoner in solitary has the guards in his or her world. In the wider world, those we have as friends and family helps to define our own place in it. So for me the people around my heroes are as important as the two guys themselves, be they family, friends, ex-lovers, work colleagues, opponents, rivals, or just the little old lady who is helped across the road. Show Not Tell is engraved in poker-work on the surface of my brain, and while I don't always manage to follow its advice, secondary characters are one of the major weapons in that arsenal. Whether I'm writing in the 1st person, or a tightly focused 3rd person, how my hero feels about and reacts to these people tells the reader a lot about the kind of person the hero is. 

But, and it's a big but, the secondary characters mustn't overwhelm the leads, and that is a difficult line to walk. What I, as the writer, think is a good balance between the leads and the also starring, isn't always the same to the reader. Some readers prefer the concentration to be solely on the leading characters and have no time or inclination for the 'cast of thousands' approach.  That's no reason for me to avoid attempting to create believable multi-dimensional characters, even if I'm not intending to write a series based in a particular universe, following the lives of the various people introduced in the original book.

Of course, the also starring doesn't have to be human - or sentient alien *g*. In my recent release, Game On, Game Over, TBC [aka That Bloody Cat] played a significant role in the latter part of the story. In my latest release, Home and Heart, Golden Retriever Bracken and Curly Coated Retriever Teazle, had walk-on parts. Here the trick was to avoid over-sentimentality that can go against the run of the story [TBC is an amalgam of various cats I have known, while Bracken and Teazle were and are members of my family].

Another variety of secondary character can be a place. Stokesay Castle in the Welsh Marches is a wonderful example of a fortified manor house, and made the ideal basis for the Fitzwarrens' albatross of a ruin in The Fitzwarren Inheritance trilogy. Certain TV series have excelled at these kind of co-stars - Star Trek's USS Enterprise, Starsky & Hutch - Starsky's Ford Torino, Supernatural - Dean Winchester's '67 Chevrolet Impala, and I could make a case for MacLeod's barge moored on the Seine in Highlander: The Series. Does that seem silly? Think about how James T Kirk feels about the Enterprise and all the lives held within her. And Dean's loyalty to the Impala, given to him by his father and probably the only true home he and his brother have had for most of their lives. Important character points there, for both men.

~~~ Chris Quinton ~ Gay Fiction Across Genres  ~~~
My website is here and I'm on FaceBook here  - Manifold Press is here
Silver Publishing is here - GLBT Bookshelf Wiki is here

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