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Don’t Forget Your Second Banana: Secondary Characters in Your Novel

By on Friday, Jan 24, 2014 in Donald Maass, Secondary Characters | 0 comments

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Quick, think about the last book you’ve just loved. The one you’ve told all your friends about. You probably have a lot of reasons why you love it, but let’s focus on just one.
The heroine’s (or hero’s) second banana (s). Their BFF’s. Their sidekicks. Their adversaries.
Secondary characters are often orphans, i.e., neglected by their creators. Put in place so that the hero or heroine can accomplish some story goal. In other words, secondary characters are often underdeveloped and boring.
I mean, we spend so much time on our main characters, getting them just right, and that is an exhausting process. 
Think back on that beloved book I just asked you about. One that immediately comes to mind for me is Tracy Brogan’s Crazy Little Thing, which I adored on about a hundred different levels. That book is still circulating around my Jazzercise class (since September). I will probably never see it again, but that’s okay. The thing is, my friends and I are still talking about two characters in that book, the heroine Sadie’s fantastic cousin Fontaine and her totally eccentric Aunt Dody. They are complex, three-dimensional, crazy characters who clearly touched our hearts. 
In Jen Probst’s The Marriage Bargain, the heroine Alexa’s best friend Maggie is not on scene very much but you can’t help loving her when she is. Her personality shines from the page. (No wonder she got her own book 🙂
I looked for some wisdom from Donald Maass’s The Fire in Fiction to help answer the question, what makes these secondary characters memorable?
Maass says it’s not a matter of making a character beautiful or dangerous because what is beautiful or seductive or dangerous is not the same for everyone. 
He believes it is the IMPACT the secondary character has on the main character that makes that character special. 
Secondary characters must be EXAMINED or they will be BLAND. They must be out-of-the-box. Not a stereotyped Best Friend or Bad Guy or Bad Girl Next Door. They must have UNEXPECTED layers that take your reader by SURPRISE.  
How do we make these characters DEEPLY HUMAN? Maass suggests giving them internal conflicts and looking at them though your protagonist’s eyes. What is a defining moment in their relationship? How has this character changed your protagonist? What’s one thing your hero will never understand about their friend? How does your heroine resist this person? Are these characters stereotypical or do they surprise us with their unexpected, human qualities?
For more on how to beef up your secondary characters, see The Fire in Fiction, Donald Maass, Chapter Two, Characters Who Matter.
 “Sunshine on My Bananas.”