Saturday, January 5, 2013

Secondary Characters Who Sizzle: Georgia McBride

This may seem like a cop-out, but when I think of great secondary characters, I think of Harry Potter and Twilight. These authors knew what they were doing when they expertly chose certain secondary characters as plot catalysts, plot resolution agents, and characterization reinforcement. However, you aren't JK Rowling or Stephenie Meyer, so I have some advice for writing secondary characters who sizzle. When writing a novel, why should the main character have all the fun? It is impossible (and frankly lazy) for your main characters to drive the plot alone, develop character in a bubble and offer authentic and believable resolution to the story all on their own. And, even if (s)he does, the only way to make it interesting and richly layered is to have amazing (think scene-stealers and best supporting award roles) secondary characters to break up the obvious awesomeness of the main character. Why? Because all awesome all the time is BORING. Below is a list of some of my favorite secondary characters from the aforementioned series and why I like them.


The Dursleys by Harry Potter Wikia

Harry Potter 

The Dursleys – hardly major characters, their decisions and actions played a major role in driving the story forward, and sending Harry on his quest in book one. Without the Dursleys, Harry likely would have been resolved to staying under the stairs until it was time to move away. Preventing him from using magic made his interest in his ability and heritage even greater. I dare say their distaste for all things magic was instrumental in driving Harry to want to learn the truth. Through the introduction of these secondary characters the author was able to offer solid character motivation (what drove Harry to want to leave initially), characterization (via Harry’s reactions to the Dursleys and their treatment of him), story set up (this story is about x), the Muggle world (subtle worldbuilding), and also give us a hint of the young man Harry would become.

Twilight by Twilght Saga Wikia

Twilight Saga 

One of my favorite secondary characters in the series is Renesmee Cullen. So it’s the worst name in history, but Renesmee influences the plot and characters like no other. Just by existing, she cements the bond between the vampires and werewolves, reduces the Volturi to nothing more than mall cops and helps Team Jacob members feel better about their loss. No other minor character in recent YA history has had such an influence on the outcome of a novel, the main character’s ultimate development, or the resolution of conflict that had been building through four novels in a series.

Cinna by

So, when writing sizzling secondary characters, remember those who have gone before you. You have wonderful examples here and in many other popular titles (Think Cinna and Effie Trinket from The Hunger Games). What it is it about these characters that makes them memorable even after you finish reading the book? What makes them secondary characters who sizzle?

 If you have other examples, please comment below. Write well!


Georgia loves a good story. Whether it’s writing her own, or publishing someone else’s, story is at the heart of everything Georgia does. Founder of Month9Books, YALITCHAT.ORG and the weekly #yalitchat on Twitter, Georgia spends most of her days writing, editing, or talking about books. That is, of course, when she is not blasting really loud music or reading. She is represented by Tamar Rydzinski of The Laura Dail Literary Agency. Her debut YA novelPRAEFATIO releases May 2013 from Month 9 Books

Visit Georgia online at: or
Twitter: @georgia_mcbride
Instagram: IamGeorgiaMcBride


Katrina L. Lantz said...

Ooh, Effie and Cinna are fantastic examples! I'd not thought about the importance of entwining the secondary characters' motives into the overall story arc, but when you mention these bestsellers, it's clear that's what they did. I have trouble finding a balance between characters who sizzle and characters who are hotter than the hero/heroine. :) Maybe I need to read Harry Potter again! Thanks for this post and for making me think.

HeatherCRaglin said...

I hope my secondary characters live up to my idea of what they are/should be. In a MG I'm working on, my CPs said the MC's friend had more personality and they could picture her better than the MC. Had to rework that situation. Thanks for reminding us of what secondary characters can add to a story.

Anonymous said...

Love Hunger Games! The characters drive the story.

Angelica R. Jackson said...

I love it when secondary characters are so well-rounded that you know their backstory would fill up an entire book on its own. I have a fairly minor character in Crow's Rest that has taken on enough of a personality that if CR were to turn into a series, he'd have a book all to himself.

Anonymous said...

Love this! Great post!!!

A. Lynden Rolland said...

Ender's Game! Card's secondary characters are addicting especially the children at Battle School(even Bonzo and the other villains). I read it for the first time in college during a literature course, and I was so excited to find that many of the secondary characters (like Bean, my favorite!) have their own books. I think my roommates made fun of me that weekend because I stayed in to read...

Rachel Schieffelbein said...

Oh, Cinna is a great example! I loved him. :)
Night Circus was another book filled with wonderful secondary characters. (And a lot of them!)

Unknown said...

Totally agree about the Dursleys! They were a sitcom unto themselves and made Harry all the more interesting, not just as a story but as a character. Thanks!

Theresa Milstein said...

I agree with you about Harry Potter and The Hunger Games. Some great secondary characters!