Red Lettering

Stories will not be written easily. A story without a heart is dead, and the only place it will get a heart is from the author.

Secondary Characters Have Rights, Too

Dear Secondary Characters,

I’m sure you must know by now. The way people write articles, speak, or write about you, it’s like you’re not important. Authors ignore you, or pull you into the story and then throw you out again as soon as they’re done with you. I know some among you have tried to stop these acts, and some have succeeded.

But some have not.

I admit, two years ago, I would have done the same thing. I didn’t care for any secondary characters; you all only served your purposes, and then left the novel, presumably to go back to your lives and be forgotten. I cared naught for your plights, your stories, even who you were. You were tools.

Then I met a young man named Swithin.

Perhaps it was the calm, cool way he gave orders, or the way that he was in the antagonist’s forces, but he did not follow the antagonist’s orders. Perhaps it was the way he treated his men, like they were more than he, or the way he stepped in and did the right thing when it needed to be done, and then, even when I tried to have him fade back out of the story, he refused. I decided to look into him. The deeper I dug into him, his character and his past, the more I found.

From that moment on, I realized (though there have been times when I have relapsed), you secondary characters are not tools. You are people. You are characters. You are the responsibility of the writers.

And we, most of the authors of this world, had failed in representing you correctly.

When you receive this letter, I don’t know what you’ll think–I’m sure that, some of you, will be glad and joyfully tell each other, “Finally! This is what we’ve been waiting for!”

Some of you, though, will look at it and shake your heads. “How will they manage that?” You’ll say, amusement evident on your faces. “No more secondary characters? They’ll be busy. How do you suppose they’ll find time to write the full stories of every character they come across?”

Truth be told, secondary characters, we won’t. I know the look you’ll be giving me, so, before you write back and say so, I’m not betraying you. I’m not going back on what I just said, nor do I suggest that any other authors go back to using you as only “minor characters.” Yet while some of us, as authors, would be able to write all of your stories, or show all of your personality, those are the super-heroes, the best of the best. Unfortunately, there’s not many of those, so we must come up with a compromise.

“A compromise?” You might say, so before you stop reading, let me continue. You might not be too pleased with what you see, but you might not hate the idea, either.

What if we stopped using you as tools? What if we stopped using you as the people to support the ideas of our main characters, or be those with their arguments shot down? What if we, as the authors, stopped treating you as nothing, and started treating you as characters?

Your stories are just as important as the stories we’re writing. Even though you star as supporting characters, you aren’t worthless, you aren’t simply there as a brief person we’ll use, and then throw away.

We’ll write you as characters. We’ll write you as people, as deep and real as our main characters; we just won’t be able to tell your story. We can’t show you as everything you are, but we can put work into you, because you’re worth it.

In return, you’ll be good to our stories. You won’t take over (not without permission, anyway), but you will be our main character’s support. You will play your part, willingly now, for from now on it will be your part. You won’t be portrayed as a cardboard cut-out. You’ll be there to add to the story and to assist or hinder the main character, but, whether we tell our readers or not, or whether you tell us or not, you’ll be people.

You’re characters.

Don’t ever let your authors tell you that you aren’t.


Athelas Hale

(Writer and President of The Association for Protection of Character’s Rights. (AfPoCR))


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13 thoughts on “Secondary Characters Have Rights, Too

  1. I like this! Very much so!!!!!!

  2. melissajaytroutman on said:

    Another great post! I’m so glad I subscribed. 🙂

    True, MCs do seem to get all the attention, from readers and writers. But I’ve had a few — okay, a lot of — side characters whom I couldn’t bear to leave. I started writing them, and as I continued or revised, they surprised me with their personality, their wit, their story, their quirks, their depth. I wanted to write more of them. But, alas, the main character is a main character for a reason. 😦 In my last book, at least two of those beautiful side characters died . . .

    I think the President of The Association for Protection of Character’s Rights would be happy to see this quote by Jocelyn Hughes: “Treat all your secondary characters like they think the book’s about them.”

    • Some of my favorite characters have been secondary characters, not only in my own books, but in books that I’ve read. At this very moment, I’m actually slightly sad about the death of a secondary character in a book I just read… *sigh*
      A good thing about wanting to write the stories of secondary characters is, when you’re looking for something to write, you can always go back and look through old writing to find out who’s story needs to be written.

      Indeed! Look at the side bar. 🙂

      • I agree! Sometimes it’s those side characters who impress you or endear themselves to you more than the main character. Nothing wrong with that.
        That’s a neat idea! I’ll have to remember that next time I need something to write. 🙂

        Haha, seriously? Was that up there the whole time? *facepalm*

        • Quite. Secondary characters tend to be on the sidelines a lot, which might be why we like them so much… The author hasn’t told us everything about them, so we keep wanting to know more. They’re intriguing.

          xD Oh, no. Apparently the Association fPoCR liked it. :p

  3. So true! I like to think, though, that I always give side/secondary characters full attention when I write them. My problem is that they sometimes become overwhelming, and soon the story is just one big mass of backstories and whatnot. I mean, everyone’s the hero in THEIR story.

    • That’s something I keep having to remind myself… Everyone is a hero in THEIR story. Not someone else’s. Some secondary characters are just so intriguing that they get their own stories, or have a major part in the story I was working on before, but I keep having to remind myself that the main character is a main character for a reason. Even when I can’t really remember why.

      • “The main character is a main character for a reason. Even when I can’t really remember why.” Totally 🙂 Right now I’m in a pause with Serena’s story and her friend Carrie’s just seems more intriguing. 🙂 I do need to stick with Serena, though. Oh well. Her story is nice too- just diffent. 🙂

        Loved your thoughts!

        • For me, there are two major types of characters I love in books: those I see myself in, and those that intrigue me. I’ll keep reading until the early hours of the morning for both of them, and neither is better, but if the character is lacking both, I find it hard to care for them, both when I’m reading and when I’m writing. If you’re having trouble connecting with your main character, I would suggest finding a way to connect her personality to yours. This will also usually help for her to seem real to any readers in the future. For my main character in my current major project, she’s something of an “all grown up, very strong” little girl, who I was, and still kind of am. That’s enough to keep me going to get her to the end of her story; I see myself in her, and I relate to her very well. I don’t know if it would be helpful to you, but it’s been enough to keep me writing ninety-thousand words later.

  4. Serena’s a lot like me, while Carrie is like the complete opposite. Not exactly, but still… 🙂 I’m so going farther with Serena’s story – Lord willing. 🙂

    • Opposites are fun to work with, especially if your main character is a lot like you. Excellent! 🙂 I hope everything works out well while you go on with it.

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