I like creating characters. I was a lonely child and had lots of imaginary playmates. Now as a writer I get to put all those fun people down on paper. The thing that’s most interesting to me though, is the way those secondary characters tend to capture the imagination of my readers. I put in a lot of work on my primary characters. They typically have long a long backstory much of which doesn’t make it into the book. My secondary characters are typically created on the fly. Take Nate Randolph, the hero of my current WIP Dark Star. Nate was part of Tonya’s backstory, her long-lost love who takes off for the Peace Corps and is never heard from again. So when I was writing Rock Star I knew someday I’d do this story reuniting her with this secret agent man. The interesting thing is the way he popped up in Try a Little Tenderness. In that story once I’d stranded Koss and Lola on Ile de Lina, I needed a way to get them out again. As initially written Koss was going to do a rescue type thing and save Lola, but really that made no sense. Koss is one sexy geek, but he’s no commando, it seemed crazy to have him going up against professional mercenaries alone. So, I went through my catalogue of characters for a fighting man, it worked perfectly to have Nate show up and help them out. Also, Nate was talking to me incessantly the whole time I was writing Try a Little Tenderness. It was deucedly hard to finish that book because he simply wouldn’t SHUT UP! I had to put him in the book or lose my freaking mind. It wasn’t a big part, but boy did it have impact. I’ve had more emails about Nate than any other character I’ve created besides Tonya. And once I revealed that he was Tonya’s long-lost love the interest went stratospheric.
Another more recent character is Jacinto from Buttercream. He doesn’t even appear in the book, yet something about the adopted Vietnamese man with the Latino name who lives in a yurt in Kansas making goat cheese struck a chord with people. I do plan to do a whole series of novellas about this quirky little family which is near and dear to my heart, but this interest in both him, and Poppy’s sister, Daffodil caught me by surprise. I love off-beat characters and I think I’ll have a lot of fun with these ersatz hippies.
For the writers who read this blog, how about you, do you have secondary characters that have taken on a life of their own? Forcing you to write their story NOW! Readers, how do you feel about secondary characters, how much is too much? Do you enjoy having them, or are they a distraction?