Saturday, March 26, 2016

Secondary to Main Character, Starting a Series

Continuing ideas presented in my post, “Surprise Secondary Characters,” what surprises me is the number of secondary characters who become leads in a following story set in the previous book’s world. In today’s market, many story series begin the next story with a secondary character from a previous story. That characteristics might have been developed a little more than most to pique the reader’s interest but didn’t take over the story. Although this method has been used for a long time, I don’t remember it ever being so much a characteristic of series as in today’s genre fiction. Whether it is a contemporary or a historical romance series set in a particular time or location, or a fantasy and science fiction novel set in a particular world, series make create popular fiction; however, I’ve encountered some that went on too long. When the characters lose their individuality, I leave the series.

The permutations of serialization in stories is amazing from numerous stand-alone romances located in a single named town setting to stories based on one unique aspect of the main characters (think series about werewolves, vampires, dragons, and other shape shifters). I’ve encountered several authors writing from their own unique view point in one prearranged world, and a more common standard of a very long, convoluted plot taking place in several volumes.

I find series I like easy to read and relate to because I know the background so well, and enjoyable because it is like visiting home. I’ve used this method in my own writing.

Somewhere I’ve read that there are only seven, or some other finite number, of plots. While I’m not so certain of that assertion, I don’t worry too much about it except as the situations and emotional reactions of the characters interest me. Readers read. It’s what I enjoy. I love to read, and as long as the characters and the action differs in the story, the rest is usually irrelevant. Types of human relationships seem to be similar but infinite in differences. As a reader I want to relate to a character whose morals I can identify with, even if they are not my own; a society whose ethical standards I understand, even if anathema to my own.

As I mentioned before, I’ve studied Vladimir Propp’s fairytale progression analysis and Carl Jung’s character archetypes, and found them described in Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey. A long time ago I wrote a paper on an episode of Air Wolf showing this same details in TV programming. Discovering the similarities in the ancient orally passed-on stories and the psychology involved in those stories initially surprised and interested me. Since, it has helped me determine my characters’ purposes and their action in the plot. Every writer tells a story in a different way, organizes the scenes in different order, gives a different take on a familiar plot, but the thought that our inner ancient story demands lives on in my readers helps guide my writing.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Secondary Character Surprises

In some stories I’ve read, the secondary characters are as interesting if not more so than the lead characters. It is not only the good ones but also the evil ones who attract my attention. Often it is their curious mannerisms, or funny vocal quips, that draw me. If they make me curious or furious as to why they are as they are, or make me laugh while making me wonder if they are really happy, they distract me from the lead character's dilemma. For me, they can help develop a world, or make a not-so-interesting main character’s story better. I’ve also noticed that not only I have promoted them to main characters in another story.

I hope this doesn’t happen in my own stories. Secondary characters should not overwhelm the main characters in their stories, and I try to keep the extras as story support. I’ve used psychologist’s Carl Jung’s archtypes as described in Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey to help format main and secondary characters in my stories, along with a Personality Self-Portrait by Dr. John M. Oldham and Lois B. Morris, The later is an interesting book on different types of personalities and personality disorders.
Oldham and Morris help me leave my preconceptions about a certain character and develop them in another way. Vogler, however, shows how an ancient method of delivering and a more modern deciphering characters in a story is still valid in today's media. These have helped me determine my characters’ purposes and how to define them as an individual, for if a character has no purpose or personality, it is a character to delete. Those who inhabit a world as no other function than background have names such as waiter, or dog walker, or simply man or woman.

To earn a name in a story, the character has to have a reason to be included. I have also discovered if I put any thought into a secondary character beyond their part in the story, that if I create personality and quirks, they become more personable to me. In turn, they often surprise me by telling me what they will do and how they will react. It’s disconcerting, and they can becoming demanding forces.

I ran into this in my first published book, the fantasy, Magic Aegis. Kissre is a stern but effective mercenary who becomes the heroine’s bodyguard. She was the wrong gender for a mercenary in the place and time of this fantasy. She faced bias in the country where she worked, but she also wouldn’t let me change her into a man. I became stuck writing several scenes with Kissre. It was as if she wouldn’t let me write what I wanted, as if she asked me ‘Would a man in this position do this? I think not. Let me do it my way. It’s how a soldier does it.” It was also how a woman damaged by personal history but secure in herself and her femininity would do it. She surprised me, but I must admit, I haven’t met many female mercenaries. Kissre didn’t kick me in the teeth and demand her story, but my curiosity about her background and future drove me to write her story, Acceptance. Then in her story, while she is arguing with her sister, Tyna demanded a chance to tell her side of the story, which became the story in Change. Secondary characters can become an opportunity and a challenge when writing.

This never happened in the Black Angel space opera series. The multiple-personality lead character Jesslynn Chambers had enough characters inside her to prevent any secondary character from making demands. Keeping each recognizable to the reader by their behavior was hard enough. Later, upon thinking that over, it also made me question if I had a lead character or multiple secondary characters pretending to be a lead character. The series was a surprising, interesting, but difficult writing experience.

Yet, in my third series, Home World, a secondary character who is only mentioned in passing in a second volume, The Nanite Dragoon, who had little impact on the story other than as a friend/ally, piqued my interest. Now the story of Brigit and the other Dragoons, soldiers too dangerous to let live and too valuable to kill, will find new purpose in taming their new home, a nearly complete bioformed planet.

Secondary characters can surprise readers and writers. What I try to do, however, is not have a previous story’s main characters invade the subsequent volume. They may have limited appearances, but their presence is limited to less than most secondary characters. Because, in reading many series, what I have noticed is that previous main characters tend to lose their distinctive personalities when dropping into a later story. I’d rather not have that happen.

Please visit the following blogs and see what these authors have to say on the topic of secondary characters.

Anne Stenhouse 
Skye Taylor 
Beverley Bateman 
Judith Copek
Connie Vines
Victoria Chatham 
Helena Fairfax 
Marci Baun 
Rachael Kosinski 
Hollie Glover
Dr. Bob Rich 

Fiona McGie