Creating Realistic Secondary Characters


The Plight of the Unnamed Crew Member

galaxy quest

The Crew of Galaxy Quest with the unnamed crew member on the far right back of picture

Last week we discussed the main characters which include the protagonist, antagonist, and the love interest (Haven’t Read it? Here’s the Link) In addition to a protagonist, antagonist, and love interest, there are other characters in the story and these are called secondary characters. What you don’t want for secondary characters is what I call the “unnamed crew member” in other words, you don’t want too many of those people who are only there to serve the protagonist and antagonist. If you’ve ever seen Galaxy Quest, you’ll probably remember the plight of the unnamed crewmember is vaporized at the beginning of the episode to indicate that the idyllic planet that they were on was not so idyllic.

Secondary Characters are Not Just Props for the Main Characters

It is too easy to use secondary characters as simple props for the main characters. You wouldn’t want someone using you for their own gains, and I don’t think that secondary characters like being used that way either. Therefore, just as you develop the protagonist, antagonist, and love interests, you want to develop their sidekicks as well.
So how do you do that? To develop secondary characters, I create character sketches and work to get inside of their heads.

How to Develop a Character Sketch

A character sketch is a document that tells the physical, emotional, mental and social aspects of a character. It takes you from telling about the character and actually getting inside of his head.

What goes into a secondary character’s sketch? To create a character sketch, you want to have a number of things that you know about this character. First, you want to know a little about this person’s physical appearance, but you want go a little deeper than what color hair, how tall, and the color of their eyes. Does this person have any scars? How did he or she get it? Was the protagonist or antagonist there when it happened? Do they have any other physical defining characteristics? Did he or she have an illness as a child or older that caused other physical defects, limps or whatever? Does this person have any bad habits like smoking or drinking too much? How does this person relate to the protagonist and antagonist? If the protagonist is controlling, how does the sidekick relate? Does he feel intimidated? Does he resent the main character’s control over him? What is his or her history with the protagonist/antagonist/love interest? Have they always known one another or how did they meet? What kinds of things did they do together in the past? The more well-rounded you can get your secondary characters, the more well-rounded your story will become.

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2 comments
  1. There must be a purpose for each character; otherwise the writer is just filling in pages for the page count.

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