Secondary Characters: How They Relate to Theme

Just today as I was working on my cozy, I had to create yet another secondary character.  Honestly, I thought I had a pretty good handle on the secondary characters.  I’d created a pair of friends, spouses, parents and kids.  There were other members of the choir, the choir director and more.

Then yesterday, I had to add a florist.  Today, it was an intern at the local museum.

These characters are essential to keeping the plot moving, but even as I was adding them I wondered if I was using them to their best advantage.  Then I saw K.M. Weiland’s post, “Supporting Characters and Theme: 6 Important Questions to Ask about Your Story.”

As Weiland pointed out, we all love stories that are complex, that have deep, well-developed themes.  Years ago, I remember watching the TV show “Life Goes On.”  No matter which characters were the center of that week’s episode, the other characters explored the same theme but in different ways. One character might be put in a situation where she might decide to lie to someone to spare their feelings.  Another character would have to deal with someone telling him a lie. Still another character might be trying to decide what was true and what was false about a given situation.

In her own post, Weiland reminded me that characters should deal with the theme in a variety of ways.  My main character is having to rediscover who she is.  She thinks she knows who the murder victim is but through the course of the story discovers that there was more to him than anyone realized.  One of her new friends is dealing with a bad reputation and having to convince people that isn’t who she is because she is no longer an addict.

My more minor characters?  I’m going to have to make certain that in addition to selling someone a plant or cleaning the house, they to address these questions of identity in some way.  Some of them will be easy.  Others will have to be jazzed up in the rewrite.  But at this point I feel like I have a clue.



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