Monday, April 26, 2010

Secondary Characters Are People Too

I’ve been busy the last month or so working on something that I thought would take a week, maybe two.
Uh. No.
A ten day project turned into a six-week one. Granted, I have a full-time job, took a week-long business trip, and had a family emergency that took up some of that time, but the “project” became bigger than I ever dreamed.
And it made my manuscript much, much better, so I’m not complaining.
So, let’s dive in.
I’m talking weaving existing secondary characters points of view (POV) into a manuscript that is already completed.
It’s not as simple as it sounds. Read on to find out why, and what I did to make it work.
If you have the slightest idea that you might add a second, third, or fourth POV into the manuscript you’re working, plan on it from the very beginning. Don’t assume you can just add that POV later.
My manuscript begged for additional POVs, but I didn’t write them into the story in the beginning. I finished it, and was very pleased with the outcome. But every so often, I’d be discussing length with someone and know that it could be 10-15K longer.
The story could tell more of the villian’s goal, motivation, and conflict (GMC), as well as one of the key secondary character’s GMC, which was a kid, btw (and a blog post for another day). And I really wanted to tell a little of this kid’s story.
But I put it off.
I could add that part to the story with one hand tied behind my back, after I’d shopped it around at the current length. I already knew his GMC, and it would only be a few pages tucked in here and there.
It would be fun.
I kept putting it off though, working on a new story, shopping the existing one, until an industry professional asked me to lengthen the manuscript.
Sure, I can do that. Easy.
And it was very easy to start at the beginning and tuck in a scene here, one there, set the stage, etc., but by the time I got to the middle (why is it always the middle?), things got tricky. And by end, it became downright complicated.
Just like figuring out my hero and heroine’s GMC’s, I had to do the same for these two secondary characters. As long as they weren’t “on stage”, the reader could insert any kind of reasons for their actions, but once they have their own POV, that’s when the horse kicks over the traces.
Try it. You might be shocked at how it changes the way your story plays out.
I had a pretty solid story, but as I started adding in these additional POVs, I realized I had these guys doing some things that wouldn’t be true to character. This became really clear when the hero and heroine figure out who the bad guy is.
The whole section where the plot fell apart was only 15-20 pages long, but it needed to be rewritten to beef up the tension and be believable for all parties involved. The remaining pages didn’t require a complete rewrite, just some wrap-up scenes from the two new POVs.
Think of a secondary character in one of your manuscripts, someone who sways your protagonist, antagonist, or your plot in some way. Plot out their GMC, and even if you don’t write them into the story, if you’re like me, you’ll have a few aha moments where you realize the story isn’t quite what it needs to be.
Because you know what?
Secondary characters are people, too.


  1. Pam, I'm glad the addition of the new POVs added so much oomph to your story, even if the process took longer than you'd expected. I'm going to have a villian's POV in my next story, and I think it will add a neat element.

  2. Great post! Secondaries are definitely a great way to help portray the main characters likability as they interact.

    I admire suspense writers who can get into the bad guys' POVs.


  3. Great post! I confess I've never written 2 (or more) POVs in one book before. I know... shocker :) My novels are both in first person.

    After I finish my WIP, I'm considering venturing out of my writing comfort zone, and using 2 POVs for my next book. For a newbie who's never done that before, do any of you have any tips?

    Thanks so much for any advice you may have! :) I need it. LOL.

  4. Great post, Pam! You're totally right, I needed to make sure my secondary characters had GMC too! What a pain to add it into the story after I'd already started on it!

  5. Interesting. In my first book WIP, I wrote a scene in a secondary character's POV. One of my CPs told me I needed to keep it to just the hero and heroine.

    My secondary character ended up screaming for his own book (which he's getting).

    Adding my villain's POV would be fun, though my villains tend to be a little off the deep end. Need to be able to present them without always making them slightly psychotic.

  6. I love it when they scream for their own book, Walt. Makes planning the next writing project so much easier.

  7. Good morning, everyone!

    Pam, I love secondary characters because they can be quirky, fun, exaggerated etc. Sometimes it feels the hero and heroine are in straightjackets--likable, with a flaw or two, but not too many, heroic! Secondary characters can be completely themselves.

    In my third book I'm going to add a villain's POV. It should be fun.

  8. In longer works of fiction, I love to read the secondary characters POV, especially the villian. It give the reader more insight on just why they are acting "horrible" and adds sympathy for the heroine/hero.

    I brewed breakfast blend coffee and English breakfast tea this AM. Help yourself.

  9. As a reader I love more detailed glimpses into secondary characters as well. They really flesh out a story and can help move the hero/heroine along (if it's a romance). And I love it when a secondary character takes on a life of his or her own and leaps into a book and a series is born. When a book is good...really, really, really good...I'm not ready to let it go and a series keeps me connected with the main characters from the previous book while highlighting that secondary character I was so intrigued with!

  10. It will be well worth it in giving the reader a richer story. It seems like any time you have to deconstruct and redo there are always more troubles thatn you anticipated (sort of like home repairs!) but its all worth it in the end.

  11. Keli, I think it does too. Obviously, shorter books can't sustain additional POVs, but at least you know that you're going to write it in, and can plan ahead.

    You'll be way ahead of the game that way!

  12. I'm glad you posted this. My manuscript has two - hero and heroine - but I've wondered if it wouldn't be a more satisfying story if I pulled in some more characters GMC. At this point, though, I've re-written enough times that I'm going to wait until someone ELSE besides ME suggests it. Time to get on with life, and book two!

    Every time I visit, I feel like I've learned so much!

    Oh, and the breakfast blend is wonderful! Thank you, Rose!

  13. Okay, I'm not the hostess with the mostess that Ruthy is, but...

    There's regular and decaf coffee on the sideboard, curtesy of Starbucks, and a hot water carafe with an assortment of teas.

    Orange juice to your right.

    And bacon, eggs, and homemade biscuits and fig preserves to start your day. Oh, and if you're not a figgy, holler. There's strawberry and blackberry jam in the fridge.


  14. HEAR, HEAR, PAMMY -- Finally a voice for the little people!!!

    I love, love, LOVE subordinate characters because they SO enrich a story with depth and extra layers of emotion and drama!!

    I actually went through a little bit of what you did, Pam, with Cluny McGee in A Passion Denied. He was meant to be no more than a three- or four-sentence blip in a scene, but the kid SO charmed me, that I slowly wrote him into the book, finally giving him a larger-than-life presence that has evolved into his own book (A Hope Undaunted) AND given me my favorite hero to date. But after his initial blip, I had to go back and work him in to my synopsis with a fleshed out GMC. Tricky but certainly doable ... AND fun!

    And, Walt, I am SO with you in that secondary characters can evolve into their own book. I wrote A Passion Most Pure as a single book, NEVER thinking of writing a series in the beginning, but by end of story, Charity (the evil sister subordinate) begged for her own story in my mind (vindication, I think, for me and for her), so I wrote it, and lo and behold ... Revell bought it!

    Great post, Pammy, and SUPER CONGRATS on getting the hard work done. I pray it pays BIG dividends with a sale.


  15. Mia, since so much of my writing is instinctive, I'm not sure how much advice I can give.

    But I'll give it a shot.

    If it's a romance, then I would alternate scenes between the hero and heroine. However, I don't always do that. Sometimes the heroine might have two scenes back to back, etc.

    It seems that I just know when it's time to move into the other character's head.

    It's all about ebb and flow and how it feels to you. Just play around with it...

    And read some of your favorite books, and you'll see how other authors do it.

  16. Walt, your CP might be right. If your book is 55-75k, then you might not have room to add in additional POVs.

    But...if you think you might lenghten it later, now would be a good time to plot out that villian's POV.

  17. If you're not a "figgy"????


    How delightfully, ummm....colloquial.



    I took the other selection of jams from the refrigerator (ignoring the science projects circa 10th grade biology class) and placed the jam in delightful, sparkling crystal jelly pots.

    With a jelly spoon, of course.

    But other than that hostessing faux pas, the repaste is lovely, dear friend. Just lovely.

    And I apologize for my late arrival but I was totally psyched and doing our interview for Joan last week (thanks for the very cool questions, people!!!! There are some VERY QUIET followers of Seekerville out there, let me just mention that, LOL!!!)

    Pammers, I used a villain's pov in Neither Race nor Creed, a great novel that I know will find a happy home someday. And it was SO FUN (Walt, I totally get what you're saying here, talk about psychopaths... And the research for serial killers???? I'm expecting Homeland Security at the door as we speak!!!)

    But for some stories it adds wonderful depth. And it tends to be better with higher word counts. I've seen it in shorter books, but often it seems a little gratuitous in those. As if the writer wanted to elongate a story but couldn't and threw in additional pov's to accomplish their mission.

    That's just my opinion, of course, which is worth virtually NADA, and you still need two bucks to get a grande coffee at Starbucks, with or without Ruthy opinion.


    Pam, I love that you did this. Love the opening. Love the story frame. It totally, totally worked for me!


  18. Oh, Rose, thanks for brewing tea.

    See, I told you guys I wasn't that great of a hostess.

    I just stuck some flavored tea bags on the table and instant hot water.


    Oh well, there is that old saying ... drink what you know.

  19. Carrie, that's exactly how it feels. Like I've torn the book apart and rebuilt it.

    With window dressing.

  20. Great post, Pam. I can't wait to hear that that book has sold!! :)

  21. Julie, I'm so glad you chimed in.

    I love all of Julie's secondary character's POVs. They don't even feel lke secondary characters.

    They're there. Part of the story. Family. Take them out, and the story falls apart.

    You guys study Julie's books if you want to do it right!

  22. Okay, gotta run!

    The day job calls.

    Have fun chatting, and I'll stop in around lunch if I can.

  23. Just curious, Pam, but is your book a women's fiction story?

    I had to take a secondary character's POV out of my romance story, The Healer's Apprentice. It was only two scenes, but it nearly killed me to do it. I did it on the suggestion of my editor, and I think it was the right call, but it was so hard to take it out! It needed to go to keep the reader guessing whether he was sincere or not, and how strong his feelings were about the heroine. But I really loved getting into his head, shallow and self-serving as he was. He really wasn't all bad.

  24. Pam,

    I'm not "figgy," but I managed to find the blackberry jam for my yummy homemade biscuit just fine--even before Ruthy plopped the stuff in her fancy-schmancy "sparkling crystal jelly pot" using her oh-so-proper jelly spoon. Not all of us are on a level with our foodie friend. Some of us have our hubbies trained to think adding some real cheese to mac and cheese is practically gourmet cooking. :)

    If it helps, dear Ruthy instructed me in proper blog hostess etiquette when she was a guest on MY blog--right in front of all her visitors, can you believe it? lol. I cut her slack, though, because she's a New Yorker and may not "get" laid-back California girl me. (OK, I threw that "laid-back" bit in there to see if Ruthy's paying attention. After all, she's one of the very people who's teaching OC-perfectionist me to lighten up.")

  25. I love this, Pam.
    I'll tell you what really makes it difficult. When your secondary characters are the set-up for their own book.

    That can really make you dig deep because not only do they need to be true to their character in the story you're writing but you need to know who they are well enough that when you're writing book TWO you haven't made them do something in book ONE that doesn't track.

    I honestly think of (not what you're expect) J. K. Rowling when I consider this. The way she wove her story together for seven Harry Potter books. Tiny appearances in earlier books of characters that wouldn't matter until three books later. Like Harry's parents and Sirius Black or the Weasly family. These were characters who were just brushed against at the beginning. But the thing that makes those books the kind you read and re-read is the depth of the characters, the threads that pull all the way through.

  26. Great post, Pam! I'm impressed you were able to weave in two secondary character's POVs after the book was written. Congrats on finishing!

    Publishers' guidelines drive our decisions on including secondary POVs. I had to take a POV out before submitting my debut to Steeple Hill. Far easier to do than adding one.

    I love secondary characters and enjoy seeing them get their own books as Mary did in Courting the Doctor's Daughter. I've learned the hard way that if we want secondary characters to get their own book, we need to give them characteristics that measure up to hero/heroine status. Planning ahead is key.

    Thanks for the delicious breakfast!


  27. I've been considering Mary's point about secondary characters in my new WIP. I even thought longer about their names because I didn't want to give them a name I couldn't stand and then have to bear with it for another entire book where the secondary character takes center stage.

    Blessings, ladies, on your day!

  28. Pam, excellent post! How true, we don't always use our secondary characters to their full potential.

    Although I pretty much tend to write H/H POV no matter the length of my novels, I'm finding you have to know what's going on in your secondary characters' minds if you want them to continue on in a series, or maybe even give them their own book.

    And I completely agree with you on the little revisions that explode into almost full rewrites -- or at least, full reassessments of character. Not an easy task.

    WooHoo! Good for you, Pammy! I'm proud of you!!

  29. I'm agreeing with Mary.

    I can't believe I'm saying that in public and out loud.

    But I love planting characters that get their own story. And I do it accidentally initially, and then tweak when I realize just how confused, mixed-up and oh-so-needy they are.

    And OH, YEAH, KELI GWYN?????

    Laid back????

    Oh my stars, I'm paying attention, girlfriend, and just having you make fun of me in public means your private Ruthy-tutorials ARE WORKING, PUMPKIN!!!!


    Now if only I could get you to...


    Shorten your book.


    I love great characters. And yeah, Julie's a master at developing characters you're sure to love in that quirky, stinkin' adorable Irish family. I love Irish families.

    And Jeter.


  30. What a great post! So true and I have recently discovered just how important character sketches are, really makes them real.

    Thanks for posting. :)

  31. Aw, Pam, what a really nice thing to say about my secondary characters -- thank you!!

    And Ruthy??? Wow, thank you for that sweet comment about my subs, too!! I suspect it's because you had a well-rested weekend with lots of fun things going on with babies ... but, uh, I'll take what I can get ... :)


  32. POVs are always a challenge, particularly after the first draft. You have my commiseration on the subject of projects taking longer than planned. I had hoped to finish researching my WIP in three months. The way things are going, though, it looks like it's going to end up being five or six!

  33. Been there, done that, Pam! Years ago I wrote a YA ms. that received some positive feedback but just didn't go anywhere. Then later on I decided to rework it as women's fiction, changing a secondary character into the heroine and really focusing on her POV instead of the teenager's. Quite challenging, but I think it has turned into a story with much deeper layers.

    Oh, and did anyone else catch Pam's reference to the horse kicking over the traces? I wrote about a horse and traces in another ms. awhile back and my crit partners had NO CLUE what traces were. But they said it did sound "authentic" and figured I knew what I was talking about. Been there, done that, too!

  34. Melanie, my story is historical romantic suspense. I know that isn't an official sub-genre, but that's the simplest description.

  35. Janet said: I had to take a POV out before submitting my debut to Steeple Hill. Far easier to do than adding one.

    Thanks for sharing that, Janet. I wondered if it would be hard to do that because of the "holes" it might leave for the reader.

  36. Oh Pam,
    What a fun post. I wrote a few scenes from my villian(esses?) POV and loved it. It kind of messes with the reader's mind a bit, because she tries to justify her behavior.

    She won't have her own book - I know this. She's one of my unredeemable creations, BUT in my wip I started writing from a secondary character's pov and he earned his own novel.

    It's so interesting how they do that. The cool thing is - I'm more interested in writing HIS story than finishing my wip - but I HAVE to finish my wip to 'get' to his story. AHHHH - boy, we have some weird brains sometimes :-)


  37. I have set up several characters with the intention of them getting their own story, but I've never actually given any of them a POV.

    The two POV's in this book are the villian and a kid.

    Course the kid COULD have his own story someday.

  38. I love it. Our friends are getting brave. Walt takes on Ruthy. Keli takes on the Ruthmeister.

    I can't wait to see who steps into the ring for round 3.

    Mary, quick--we should sell T-shirts. I smell an entrepreneurial moment.

  39. I was also wondering how hard it would be to remove a POV. I was imagining more plot holes than dust bunnies under my bed (okay, maybe not that many, but in my case, it would be close).

    I have always tried to figure out my secondary character’s GMC, whether or not, I use their POV. But sometimes, okay most of the time, I feel I am spending too much time working on it. But of course, I am talking about the pre-planning stages (my apologies Ruthy!) as opposed to revisions. Maybe, for me it is just a form of active procrastination ( you know sort of like, when I am sitting at the computer daydreaming with my eyes closed and hubby accuses me of sleeping. Hey, if I ain’t snorin’....) I start out with good intentions, just wanting to know a little bit more about the secondary and before I know it, I have written pages of backstory, rivaling my H/H’s.

    But, Pam, adding two new POV's, well, I am in awe, and only taking six weeks.

    Now back to work for me.


  40. I'm back from the hairdresser's looking lots less shaggy, so I thought I'd pop into Seekerville, the happening place in cyberspace, and see what's going on.

    And what do I find? Ruthy, aka Ruthmeister, challenging me to make my book *gasp* shorter. Like, how much shorter can I go? My agent already told me I have to cut the ms from 111K words to 100K. Can you say ouch?

    Here's the deal. I. Don't. Write. Tight.

    Since my degree is Mass Communication with the Print Journalism option, I learned to fight for my column inches in college. If I wanted space, I had to produce. So, I did, in true Dickensian fashion.

    In my book, 100K words is short. My first masterpiece (or was that monstrosity?) was some 250-300K words. I wrote it in isolation--before Tina searched high and low and dragged me from my cave two years ago--and I'd never heard of word length requirements. My story would have made Julie's books look like novellas. :)

    I write historicals with (too much?) description that delights and characters who have plenty to say. My saving grace is that I'm a former editor and can be ruthless when it comes to using the delete key.

    I leave you with this thought:
    Short is relative!

  41. Pam,
    More power to you for taking on such a task! It doesn't sound simple at all.

    I love strong secondary characters in a book, but sometimes their too strong and they overshadow the main character.

    A good villian is awesome, too. When I find myself feeling sorry for the bad guy, I know the writer's done a heckuva job!

    (I'm like Ruth--pretty sure there are wiretaps on all my phones!)

  42. Having just rethought the ending to my WIP (one of the lessons was unintended and NOT what I'd set out to do) I'm working back through the last 1/4 of the ms.

    Hit a difficult spot and got wonderful assistance from a local writers group this morning. We only worked through 5 pages but this is leading into where the villian pops up again. I need to flesh that portion out more since he will figure into at least one more book...

    Great timing as usual y'all! Thanks!

    Also - I've sung the praises of Seekerville to them for some time - hopefully several will stop by today! We met at the business of 2 of the writers - at their stables!!! And they catered - with homemade breads included. Yum!

    Tina - depending on how the tee shirts run, I'll take a M or L. Sign me up!

    Mary - our brand spanking new library now has a copy of Montana Rose. :)

  43. LOL, Keli.
    I feel your pain.
    You're in Mass Communications
    I'm in Speech-Language Pathology

    Automatic license to talk...a lot ;-)

    I got the word-count-cut from my agent too. He wanted me to take my ms from 120,000 words to 90,000. I'm down to 100, and still am very proud of the book.

    It's been hard. Like extracting some of my freckles.

    But the 'feel' of the novel is MUCH tighter - IMO.

    we'll see where I"m going to cut out those other 10K.

  44. Pepper, kudos on cutting those 20K words. That had to hurt. Your extracting freckles simile works well. I feel for you as you go at your ms again in search of those last 10K words. The nice thing is, you'll end up with a leaner, cleaner story.

    Wouldn't it be great if we could market our extra words for those who have the opposite problem? Then again, we could save them. For every three books we write, we'd have enough leftovers for a fourth. :D

  45. Pam raises her hand first to take Keli's and Pepper's extra words.

    I'm sure nobody would ever notice if I just stuck them in the middle.


  46. Exactly, Keli
    All those well-placed 'zingers' I had within those 20K words are in a file for later use. :-)

    Yeah, I HOPE it's going to be cleaner. I think the problem I have is trying to keep the 'flow' going when I cut. That's taking some work and growth as a writer.

    As for pov - one thing that's stretched my writing, and hopefully made it better, is trying for those other povs. It's made me try to take a perspective I didn't necessarily 'like', but in the process it made my villain or secondary character more three-dimensional

  47. LOL, Pam.
    I wonder what genre that might be called. :-)
    We could just label it "Eclectic Inspirational"

  48. Oh wow, I know what you mean! I have a story that needs some of the same TLC and I've YET to find/make the time. Everytime I try to work on it I get overwhelmed and just put it away.

    One day though....

    Great post!

  49. Great advice, Pam. I'll have to keep that in mind while I'm revising as I have a third POV belonging to my villain. I always like knowing why the bad guy is "bad."

  50. Next month, I'm thinking of posting a Part II to this showing a little nuts and bolts of writing secondary character's POVs.

  51. And we might even have a special guest or two for that post.

    Stay tuned.