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Beth Cornelison | Secondary Characters: The Good, the Bad and the Quirky

July 10, 2008

I’m tickled to have the opportunity to guest blog today at Fresh Fiction. I want to start by giving a shout out to my older sister, Martha. Today is her birthday and no one deserves a happy birthday more. She’s a mom, a wife, a musician, a paralegal, an awesome aunt to my son, and she’s been a staunch supporter of my books since I started writing. (Which is why DUTY TO PROTECT, my July release from Silhouette Romantic Suspense is dedicated to her and my younger sister.) So happy birthday, Martha!

Now, back to the point of my post today… I’ve been thinking a lot lately about secondary characters. Why? One reason would be because I’m giving a workshop at RWA National later this month with my friend and fellow romance writer, Winnie Griggs, titled Secondary Characters: The Good, the Bad and the Quirky. In that workshop, we explore the many functions of secondary characters and how they add depth to novels, movies and plays.

For example, my family pulled out our DVD of GONE WITH THE WIND this weekend. GWTW may be Rhett and Scarlett’s story, but can you imagine this classic without Mamie? Without Melanie or… Ashley (said with the breathy sigh Scarlett always had in her voice)? It wouldn’t be the same classic we love, would it?

The best secondary characters highlight the flaws of the hero and heroine, add conflict or comic relief, up emotional drama, advance the plot, and give wise counsel when our lead character needs direction. Secondary characters can be the villain, a sidekick, a red herring, a sacrificial lamb, or an ally when the chips are down. No matter what role they play in the story, secondary characters give color and life to the stories we love. Sometimes they even steal the show. Captain Jack Sparrow anyone??

I’d never really considered how I wrote my secondary characters until the first reviews for my books started coming in. Readers were commenting on how much they loved my secondary characters! What a pleasant surprise! About my debut release TO LOVE, HONOR AND DEFEND, an Amazon reviewer said, “I think the final thing that sealed this book as a keeper is the way the author handles the motivations and personality of secondary characters. There are NO cardboard characters here. No scapegoating, NO sugar coating.” Needless to say, I was thrilled to hear my characters made such a positive impact.

This theme of standout secondary characters was repeated when I received this comment in a review for my new Samhain release, UNDER FIRE. “Her characters were so well-written that they all felt like major characters, no matter how small their presence in the book was. None of her characters were one-dimensional. Even the terrorists had hearts and conjured feelings of sympathy from me.”

So picture me grinning broadly as I sigh with relief. Writing UNDER FIRE took me almost three times longer than any other book I’d written to date. This was partly because I became so involved with all of the characters and wanted them to truly come to life and jump off the page. A couple of my secondary characters even demanded plotlines I’d not originally intended. (They do that, you know. Characters talk to the author, sometimes pouting, sometimes arguing, sometimes offering nuggets of inspiration or plot twists. In this case, one of my smokejumpers wanted his own storyline and one of my terrorists insisted she had a good heart but had simply gone astray.)

Sometimes, secondary characters will spawn sequel books. I know I love to follow up on characters I’ve met in earlier books. I feel like I’m visiting again with old friends. The heroine of my July Silhouette Romantic Suspense release DUTY TO PROTECT, Ginny West, started out as a secondary character in DANGER AT HER DOOR (August 2007 –SRS). Ginny was so sassy and brash, so intriguing to me as I wrote her, I knew she needed her own story told.

The fiction world is full of great memorable secondary characters. Who tops your list of favorites? Leave a comment here today, and I’ll pick one poster at random to win a copy of a book from my backlist. In the meantime, if you are looking for hot summer reads, I hope you’ll check out my two new romantic suspense releases, DUTY TO PROTECT from Silhouette Romantic Suspense, and UNDER FIRE from Samhain Publishing. More information about these books is available on my website .

Take care and happy reading!
UNDER FIRE– Samhain Publishing- June 2008
DUTY TO PROTECT– Silhouette Romantic Suspense- July 2008
RANCHER’S REDEMPTION– Silhouette Romantic Suspense- Oct 2008
CHASING A DREAM– Five Star Expressions- On sale now!

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