Help! My Secondary Characters are Running Amuck!

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Well, not mine at the moment, but I’ve had it happen!  You’re writing this great story and you think everything is coming together beautifully. Then something possesses you to add a secondary character for whatever reason. Maybe your MC (main character) needs a best friend or a scapegoat or maybe just someone to talk to.  That’s all fine and dandy. It helps round out your MC and typically it makes the plot more interesting to have other people involved, right?

So what happens if that secondary/minor character takes on a life of their own, overshadowing the MC and fighting for their position as hero?

If you find this other character speaks more to you, that writing them comes more naturally, then maybe you need to rethink their roles in the story. Maybe they do deserve to be the protagonist. Could this mean a good deal of rewriting? Yes, but it could make the story much better on a whole.

If you’re not willing to switch their roles you may have to scale back on what the secondary character does.  This can be hard if they keep popping up or play a significant role, but your reader will be confused and sometimes angry if the MC is overshadowed by someone else. “I was reading a book about Edward! Why is Jacob suddenly around so much?!”  Okay…probably not the best character reference since that story is a love triangle and the guys do get pretty equal time, but you get what I mean. Jake does get more of a backseat after Bella and Edward get married but…oh God, why am I using this story to illustrate what I mean?

Let’s move on.

If that secondary character really speaks to you, it could mean they deserve a book or short story of their own. It can be a prequel, their backstory and how they come to meet your MC or how they fit into the story you’re currently telling.  It could be a companion novel taking place in the same town with characters from the first book but continuing the story from this other character’s point of view.  I kind of love to see stories like that.  The Wicked Lovely series does a great job with that, fleshing out those secondary characters by making every even numbered book about one of them rather than the main characters. It helps create a more cohesive world and helps the reader understand the main plot better by filling in what’s going on with the other characters.  The main characters still show up to a degree so you get your fix of them but they aren’t the focus.

So if your secondary characters are acting up, you either need to reign them in or promise to tell their own story so they’ll comply with your wishes in your current project.  Don’t let them take the spotlight from your main character. Offer the spin-off and move on so you can let them run wild with their own tale.

Have you ever switched up who the main character in your work was or written a second story to appease a minor character?

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6 responses »

  1. I had this exact scenario come up in the 2 Otharia books. Eclair Jortac was suppose to make a quick appearance and be gone, but he had other ideas and he ended up making the story so much better! Sometimes it’s good to listen to them.

    • It happened to me too when I introduced Jazz to the story (Tears of a Clown). I happen to know she’s some people’s favorite character! Heh Someday I may write something just about her, but I’ve got a million other things to finish first!

  2. Actually, that totally happened in Abandon. The secondary character Katy… I knew her plan, but I felt like there was so much of her story left to tell – so I’ve written another story which I’m releasing around christmas (a short) which tells HER story.

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  4. Pingback: Discovering the names of novels « Write on the World

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