This month we are looking at how important Character Arc is to our stories and how it ties into the plot or story arc, and do you usually give some time and story to character arcs for secondary characters?
A story without a good character or story arc is like a straight piece of string. Boring. Uninteresting. Then tie a few knots in it here and there, and it becomes a different beast. Why is the knot in that place rather than in this place? Why is that knot bigger than the others? Does its size mean something important in the plot or an ‘aha’ moment for the character? And what does that squiggly little knot between two bigger ones indicate? Could it be a red herring slipped in there to catch the unwary?
The plot arc is the story’s shape, while characters have internal and external arcs that can create conflict. At the beginning of the narrative, Character A may be lacking in confidence. He or she thinks they are useless, unlovable, and ordinary. Then events test them as the story progresses, and we see that character overcome their ‘negative press,’ the false image they have of themselves, and by the end, they see they are useful, lovable, and extraordinary.
Secondary characters in a story are there to bring out the best in or give support to Character A, which doesn’t mean that they are less critical. They still need a good backstory, and the author needs to make them as well-rounded as Character A and not a caricature. They need names, strengths, and weaknesses, the same as Character A. While we might lay out every aspect and nuance of Character A for our reader to get to know and understand him or her, we don’t need to see that for the secondary character, even though the author will know it. Secondary characters are great for discovering facts, as Lord Clifton instructs his secretary Edward Pargetter in my book His Dark Enchantress.
Lucius tapped his forefinger against his lips, his eyes narrowing as a scheme began to form in his mind.
“That could be most fortuitous, as long as the under-secretary is not one James Horace.”
“If you wish, I could make enquiries as to whom exactly my cousin is attached.”
“I do wish, Edward, and it must be done as discreetly as possible. I also wish you to discover who else Lady Darnley has invited to dinner. Now, will I be signing my life away if I do not read these damnable letters?”
“You’ll never be sure, Sir.” Edward handed him a freshly trimmed pen.
Because Edward has been employed by his lordship for some time, they have developed respect and liking for each other, as indicated by Edward’s quip. In the same book, Lord Clifton relies on his head groom, Mr. Noble, and coachman, Mr. Tockington.
“We’ll do the same as in Folkestone.” Determination made his voice grim. “Noble, I want you and Tocky to make enquiries at the Full Moon and the Flood Tide. Edward, find the White Horse and hire a horse for me and a carriage for you three and our equipment. I’ll ask the landlord here for the quickest route to Lille.”
Edward was the first to return and he and Lucius waited impatiently for Noble and Tocky.
“Perhaps they are unable to make themselves understood,” suggested Edward.
Lucius shook his head. “I doubt it. Noble speaks passable French and Tocky appears to be able to make himself understood anywhere. Plus, with coin available to pay for a round or two of drinks, they may be gleaning more information than we expect.”
Secondary characters will have a different perspective on Character A, understand and maybe appreciate their likes and dislikes. They can help the reader build up their image of the main protagonist, like peeling an onion in reverse. They might be more like the person on the street, someone the reader can easily relate to, rather than a lord of the realm, hot-shot sports hero, billionaire, or whoever your Character A might be.
Now, visit my fellow bloggers and see what they say on the subject.
Anne Stenhouse http://annestenhousenovelist.wordpress.com
Connie Vines http://mizging.blogspot.com/
Diane Bator http://dbator.blogspot.ca/
Helena Fairfax http://www.helenafairfax.com/blog
Marci Baun http://www.marcibaun.com/blog/
A.J. Maguire http://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/
Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea