Tuesday, August 9, 2011

He's Just Not That Into You

You’ve been talking to him for weeks. She’s been talking to him. No one can get through to him. Yup, I’m talking about your secondary character.

Why the hell has he gone quiet?

With men it’s SO much harder to get them to listen. A girl you can coax with a cocktail, a piece of chocolate, or even a sweet sentiment.

Unless you’re going to shove a gorgeous girl their way with absolutely no work they’re not moving.

So how do you handle making your secondary character more than just a cardboard cutout?

You’ve worked your ass off on the main character. The reader knows she loves to dip goldfish crackers in peanut butter but they don’t have any idea what the love interest has for a color of eyes!

The easiest way to form the character is to stick with the basics. If they’re not talking chances are they don’t feel important enough. A way to make this happen is to ask them some fun questions along with some serious ones.

Color of eyes to what’s their favorite sports… each portion has meaning. The more you know about the character the more likely they’ll talk and help make not only your dialogue strong but the overall story stronger.

How do you keep your characters from being cardboard cutouts?

27 comments:

Diana Mieczan said...

Totally agree that each portion of informations has a great meaning to the overall story and the character. Fantastic post, sunshine. Happy Tuesday morning. Muah

Leigh Ann said...

Here's the thing: Everyone has a reason for being where they are and doing what they're doing. I start with the deep motivations and go back to shallow.

For example, one of my SPs (that my CP still thinks is a cliche, but I don't think she cares that much) is the youngest of four kids, but only the second in her family to start on a particular...career path. Her sister, the only other kid to do it, totally kicked butt, and her parents are so proud that now she's doing it too. So she's got a lot to live up to, but she's also excited to be there. That creates some of her physical and verbal responses to things, and her motivation for being friends wtih my MC in the first place. The rest just comes from there.

Does that answer the question? I woke up at 3:30 to work on my infant WIP.:)

You are fabulous as always Jen!

Em-Musing said...

The devil is in the details...or in this case...getting your characters details from paper to people mind with slight of words. When it's done well, you don't even see it happen.

Sarah Pearson said...

The only story I've finished had a female secondary character, and she was a lot easier to write than my male Mc :)

Christa said...

Hmm...make them a playlist. Ask them funny personal questions: "Do you have a tattoo?" "What's the most embarrassing thing you've ever done?" "What's the one thing you would take back if you could?"

Nice post.

Laura Pauling said...

I pretend they are the main character and develop their arc and motivations. SEcondary characters can be tough!

Holly Dodson said...

Yep, I think it's all in the little details. Favorite sport, ice cream flavor -- those kind of things really round a character out.

GigglesandGuns said...

I found a male secondary to a female main is the most difficult to write perhaps because of "social conditioning" in my age group.
Deep introspection into the relationship from both sides helped tremendously.

Julianna said...

Great post! As one just embarking on the novel writing journey, I know that the MC couldn't become who she will be without the secondary characters. It is so important to know why she likes them, is drawn to them and needs them in her life. I sort of think about my own life. What do my friends bring me? Why did I choose for them to be a part of my life. It isn't just about what they like to do, but about their emotional experiences too.

Kelley said...

As always, great post. And how did you know about one of my fave snacks ?!?! (goldfish and peanut butter). I think the main thing to remember is to make the character unique enough that if you took out them and replaced them, it would definitely show. If it doesn't matter, then something is wrong.

Carrie said...

I'm working on this today. I'm spending today thinking about and writing about my secondary characters.

Janet Johnson said...

I figure out their story, and treat them like the MC for a little bit and that really seems to help. :)

Great topic! These poor guys just don't get enough attention.

E. Arroyo said...

I use composites. I take traits from someone real and mix it in with what I need for my character. While writing, I find a look a like, print it out, and do a trait list adding what traits I want the character to have. I love the side kick...Especially when he/she is the opposite of the MC and they still get along.

Tiffany Garner said...

One thing that really helps me is to write a bit of the story from their POV. Since I write primarily in first person, it forces me to get inside their head, and it forces them to open up to me. I'll discover things about their character and what they think of my MC that I didn't realize before. But yeah, it can be pretty frustrating.

Word Nerd said...

Terrific post! I do a little Q&A with all but my passing characters and then weave tidbits into the writing. With guy characters, just like real-life guys, lots of info comes out when they are busy doing something, so I keep 'em occupied.

Meredith said...

I definitely have to ask my characters a ton of questions, even if I know that info won't be in the book. But those male characters--they can be secretive. :)

Tiffany said...

thanks for the comment!! love your blog :)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I had fun with the main secondary character in my next book. He's very smart, but really insecure and clumsy. And his idol is the main character. Made for an amusing combination.

Michael Di Gesu said...

A very good question, Jen.

I put tones of emotion into my male characters. Just because they're guys doesn't mean they have no soul. Make them passionate about anything. Show there flaws. Let them fail so they have to try that much harder to succeed.

Give them a quirky habit. Biting nails, tapping their fingers, wearing old football jerseys. Anything that shows some sort of passion.

Nicki Elson said...

I don't have any formula for giving the characters dimension. A lot of times I've got sort of a blend of real life people in my mind, and no one I've met in real life is 2 dimensional so (I hope) the characters aren't either.

Laura said...

Find a helpful bloke (real world) to ask your male secondary character some questions. That way you get a few male perspective answers about him too.
Lxxx

Laura Josephsen said...

Finding out little details about a character can really help!

My secondary characters tend to come out of nowhere and then throw so many details at me and backgrounds and story at me that sometimes it leaves me going, "Shut up for half a second; I'm trying to listen to the main characters right now!" But they are very important, too. ;)

Jennifer Hillier said...

This is a great question. I actually put in pretty much the same amount of effort into all my characters, it's just that the secondary characters get less screen time.

Jo-Ann said...

I'm not saying that I've got my secondary characters right, but one thing I do to discover more about them is to lock them into a room with the main character and have them fight.

That's right - a good, gut-spilling arguement reveals lots of things I never knew: past resentments and current tensions between the characters.

A fight reveals lots about their personalities and how they approach conflict. Do they back off even when they know they're right, or do they keep yelling even when they're in the wrong? Are they cool and logical, tearful, passive-aggressive, sarcastic or hot-headed? Do they strike with low blows or gently defuse the situation? Or do they even refuse to engage and just walk away? Do they hug after the fight or agree to disagree?

See - lots there! As they say, fiction is all about conflict, conflict, conflict.

Or is that just me?

julie fedderson said...

I like to see a secondary character's quirks, and the relationship between them and the mc. Sometimes just a simple couple of lines about the way they interact can really flesh out a minor character.

Carolyn V said...

My secondary character always seems to be carefree and funny. I'm not sure why, but they just turn out that way. hee hee.

BookGeek said...

I love adding little unique and memorable quirks about them. Perhaps they always have a lopsided grin or messed-up hair or a smell. Something that is part of their character traits as well as something that can easily define them. BTW, thanks for visiting my blog! Looks like we have a lot in common :)