Hello again, friends and readers. Thanks for sharing your precious time with me today. In past SMP blog posts, I discussed, creating worlds, building a scene, plus introducing characters. The hero, the heroine, and the villain have all been examined. Today, I’d like to mention the secondary characters and the role each one plays.
The main function of a secondary character is to support the main character—hero, heroine, even the villain—in speech, in actions, and to reveal the story plot.
This supporting character gives the main character someone with which to discuss the situation. The hero/heroine could converse with the wall or even the dog, but another character can contribute to the dialogue. Bow wow may be comforting, but the conversation is lacking interaction to reveal the story plot. It’s scary when the villain talks to the wall, or utters his insane speech to an animal. That calls for shivers down the spine.
The supporting characters do much more than carry on a conversation with the hero/heroine or villain. Interaction with the supporting character often reveals information about the hero/heroine or villain. Information about the goals of the main characters is often revealed as well. Through the supporting characters, important information concerning the story line can be shown rather than told to the reader. Information about the scene, about the flaws and fears of the hero/heroine or even the villain, can be reveal with actions between a secondary character and the main character. The story could not survive without secondary characters.
An Example from: A Lady’s Vanishing Choices
Bethany gave a weak smile but quickly sobered and dropped her gaze to her hands. Why is this so difficult? This is Maggie, after all. She rubbed her fingers along the braiding on the arm of the upholstered chair, the texture rough against her hand while she tried to gather her courage. She swallowed and, after moment, mumbled, “I must talk to someone or I shall go insane. I’ve been so terrified.”
“Tell ol’ Maggie.”
She couldn’t refrain from glancing over her shoulder. “What would you say if I ran across a murderer?”
“What?” Maggie roared. Her expressive brows rose to the ceiling and her eyes rounded in astonishment. “You saw a killing?”
Bethany pressed the back of one trembling hand over her mouth. “No. I observed a man digging a grave. I think it was a grave or a pit, but I saw the body. At least, it may have been a body. What else could he have been burying in the woods?”
She could still hear the sounds of digging and recalled the bundle large enough to contain a corpse lying beside the grave. Her shoulders bunched, and she dropped her head into her hands. “I think that’s what I witnessed. What am I going to do?”
“Don’t take on so.” One plump arm slid around Bethany’s shoulders. “Tell me all about it then. We shall see what’s what.”
Caught up in her distress, Bethany had been unaware of Maggie’s movements until that comforting arm wrapped around her. She wanted nothing more than to snuggle against her, but that would solve nothing.
“Do you recall when I ran away from Birdelwood Manor all those years ago? I was only ten. I didn’t want to belong to Aunt Gertrude and Uncle Arthur, so I left.”
Maggie nodded. “Course I do. We was all relieved when the vicar found you. ‘Tis a wonder you was found, them woods being so thick and the lane without a body on it in years. The hand of God was in it.”
“At the time, I didn’t want to be found, but I’m grateful now the vicar didn’t abandon the search.” Bethany scrunched her shoulders, half expecting censure, and forced out words that condemned her in her own eyes. She couldn’t bring herself to glance at Maggie. “I took the gig without permission and drove over to that very spot.”
After a full minute, Maggie said, “I do declare, you was much more reckless than usual. I suspect someone drove you to it.”
Always supportive, Maggie’s attitude brought a measure of guilt to Bethany. “Aunt Gertrude started ringing a peel over me again. I could stand no more, and I escaped for a few hours. I drove around for a while, out of charity with everything and everyone.”
“Natural you would want to seek a little quiet. Set yourself straight and the like.”
Bethany patted Maggie’s arm. “Thanks for understanding. I pulled up near the place where the vicar located me. I looked back on that day and shuddered. I only ran away because I missed my mum and papa so much. I didn’t speak, couldn’t speak, for months afterwards. Aunt Gertrude announced, to everyone who would listen, I was unstable, had a delicate mind and such. Now that refrain is uttered over and over again. People look at me with distrust and doubt.”
Maggie sank into her chair again and sat on the edge with her hands gripped in her lap. “Go on. The story is ‘bout to trip off your tongue.”
“A sound gradually drew my attention. I heard someone digging. It is such a lonely place I began to wonder at the cause.” She began to shake so badly she could hardly remain upright in the chair. “I peered from behind the bushes and discovered a man digging a grave, or at least a deep pit.”
Maggie lost some of her warm glow. “How dreadful for you.” She plopped against the back of her chair and sat in silence for several protracted minutes. “To be sure, ‘tis enough to give a body a real fright.”
“Uncle Arthur has always suggested that I have an irritation of the nerve.” Bethany gave a shaky laugh. “I do now.”
“Course you do, love. Anybody would what seen such.” Maggie’s words held reassurance and her face cleared. “You should go tell the new Lord Lieutenant of the county…that lord, the earl.” She pinched the bridge of her nose. “Tell Lord Rivton. That’s what will solve it.”
The heroine witnessed someone burying a body. No need to tell the reader of the action. The dialogue with the supporting character reveals the situation. Several facts are shared with the reader such as Maggie is her dear friend. Bethany grew up under the guardianship of an uncaring aunt and uncle.
Another Example from An Enduring Love
Three months later after the demise of his father, Lord Rhys Sudduth, Earl of Blakenshire strode into the building housing the diplomatic corps and made his way to his chief’s office. As he paced down the hall, his mind whirled searching for the reason Sir Gerald Williams had called for this face to face consultation. He’d been so caught up in the aftermath of his father’s death and all that entailed, he had neglected his other duties.
Perhaps the meeting had to do with his most troubling concern, Rebecca. His letters to her had all been returned, unopened and Rhys had requested permission to return to Latvia. He must collect his wife. Apprehension licked along his nerves, sending agitation through his entire body and he drew a sharp breath. She must have run into some sort of trouble and needed his help. Still, the returned letters had been unopened and he clenched his fist against what that might mean. Feasibly, Sir Williams would grant his request and his spirits brightened. He straightened his shoulders and hurried forward.
Sir Williams’ secretary ushered Rhys into the inner office. The chief glanced up and laid his papers aside. Motioning to a chair across the desk from him, he invited, “Welcome, Sudduth. Sit,”
Rhys dropped into the seat indicated and gazed at the chief. Troubled by the stern expression on Sir Williams’ face, he drew a deep breath and waited.
The chief met his gaze without speaking for a long moment. “I received an answer to your request to return to Latvia. I’m afraid the Latvian authorities refused to allow you back into the country.”
“For what possible reason?” Stunned, Rhys inched to the edge of his seat.
Sir Williams cleared his throat. “Seems the powers that be, didn’t like it when you married a Latvian citizen without permission.”
“But I had her mother’s permission when I married her.” Rhys clinched his teeth. “Her mother is a British citizen.”
“That’s as may be, but it’s your wife’s citizenship that is in question. Born and raised in that country and with a Latvian father makes the matter clear so to speak.”
“This is insane,” Rhys grumbled. “Rebecca is my wife. I’ll slip into the country as a private citizen. That way our government can’t be held responsible.”
Silence descended on the room and crackled with tension. Sir Williams frowned down at his fingernails and grimaced. “There’s more. It saddens me to inform you that both your wife and mother-in-law are deceased.”
“What?” Rhys couldn’t have heard properly. Rebecca couldn’t be dead. Not his beautiful wife, so young, so vibrant and so innocent. For a moment, everything in the room faded. He shook his head.
“The death certificates were sent with a denial of your request.”
“No! There must be some mistake. I must go to Latvia and locate my wife. Perhaps her mother did perish and some official thought it was my Rebecca.” Putting a hand to his chest to still the rapid beating of his heart, he inhaled deeply. “She can’t be dead.”
“I’ve made inquiries. Double checked as it were. There is no mistake. Rebecca and her mother both are certainly deceased,” Sir Williams said in a voice filled with sympathy.
Rhys rose to his feet, his jaw working. He refused to accept her death, but what if it was true? How could he go on with his wife’s remains buried in a foreign county? He needed to visit her grave, to pray over her and perhaps even talk to her when things overwhelmed him. Rhys needed to see her burial box at least to know this was real and not merely a nightmare. Rebecca must be returned to England or he would go mad. “Then I must be allowed to recover her body.”
“Not possible. I’ve tried to retrieve the bodies, but without success.”
“I can’t accept that as final. Somehow, I must claim her remains.”
Sir Williams gained his feet and straightened. “You have other obligations. Your siblings and your mother need you more than ever since your father’s death.” He came around the desk and placed his hand on Rhys’ shoulder. “Don’t throw your life away on a useless undertaking. A casket full of bones will profit you nothing. Sorrow has you in its grip, but be the sensible fellow I know you to be and accept what can’t be changed.”
Rhys glanced down at his hand where a tear had dripped and his shoulders began to shake. The chief turned and strode to the door.
“I’ll be in the other room,” Sir Williams said.
Rhys fell into the chair, folded his arms beneath his head on the desk and sobbed. None of this is true. His chest squeezed and he fought for breath. Finally, he mopped his face and walked out of the office, out of the building and out of the life he’d inhabited, into a future of a desolate existence filled with sorrow. The whole world had darkened while he’d been inside the building and he didn’t expect it to lighten ever again.
Waking, slumped in a chair in his library, he couldn’t remember arriving home. All he could recall was the devastating news that his Rebecca was dead. He clutched his head in both hands to keep his skull intact. The image of Rebecca standing on the dock with tears in her eyes, brought such pain, he rejected the picture with every ounce of his being. Instantly, the ache lessened and he sighed.
Rhys ran his hand over his face only to discover his whiskers rough against his hand. How many days had it been since he’d shaved? He recalled not eating and being unable to sleep, but all else was a blank.
Without knocking, his mother burst into the room sending waves of discomfort through his pounding head. Rhys winced, groaned under his breath and with a lift of his brows he questioned, “Mother?”
“It’s about time you came to your senses. You’ve been in and out of it for a week. You will always carry grief in your heart, but your family needs you.” Mary covered her face with her hands. “I lost my partner, my rock and my love when your father died, so I know. I need you.”
“Forgive me for being selfish.”
“Not selfish. Overcome with sadness, but we must accept and move on with life. You sit there brooding and wallowing in sorrow while all about you falls apart. I can’t manage on my own,” she cried. “So pull yourself together. Get busy. Work always helps.” Her voice dwindled to nothing.
“You are right, Mother.” Rhys shoved his whiskey bottle into a cabinet and straightened his shoulders. Following on his mother’s heels, he headed to his room. It was time to take up the burdens of life again. At that moment, he decided to bury his love for Rebecca deep in his heart and in the far recesses of his mind. He never intended to drag his memories or love for her forth again. That was the only way he could cope.
This supporting character helped him through what he thought was the aftermath of his wife’s death. So helper, encourager can be added to the list of uses for a secondary character. This passage also shows the workings behind the scene, the government, his commitment, and his decision to put the pain behind him. By the way, she isn’t dead, thus the story when she arrives in England.
I hope you have enjoyed this brief look behind the pages of two of my novels. To read more about me and my writing, visit my website: www.wareezewoodson.com