Throwaway Characters

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?

9 thoughts on “Throwaway Characters

  1. I never looked at them as secondary characters. I thought of them as friends for the main characters, who a lot of times are funny, sincere, caring and sometimes downright too honest. I guess I think of them as I think of my friends

  2. The fact that you have such compelling secondary characters is a testament to your skill as a writer. You give even your most incidental characters depth and it intrigues readers.

  3. This is so interesting because I decided to re read the Rockerd of Storm Crow series. There were so many details and characters that I forgot in the stories. It was great to see how they all connected. Totally forgot about Nate being mentioned in RS until I read it again. And the connection between Morning Star and Rock Star with Bryan and Harley. Something about reading back to back vs the time in between publishing. Like how a show is different from week to week vs a binge watch of a season. Now I need to read Try a Little Tenderness and remember that Nate is in the story. I just figured that your characters and writing are like movies and TV shows. That there is a reason for everything. You don’t include scenes or characters that just fill up space and word counts. Characters are all there to drive the story foward. And you have some scene stealers in your books. I find it really interesting which secondary characters stick with the writer and which ones stick with the readers.
    Some of the authors at RSJ talked about readers wanting stories from throwaway characters they couldn’t recall themselves. Authors would have books in a series planned out and what characters would be the focus, but readers would still want the story on some other character.
    Another issue was impatience with a character’s book not coming out fast enough. For instance Morning Star was your follow up to Rock Star and to some it mighy seem like Dark Star should have followed. But you could not have forced Nate and Tonya’s story. He is one line that you can totally miss if you read to fast in Rock Star. But like you said he was buzzing in your ear. And fans wanted Tonya to find love and romance, but with who? You could have ditched Nate and had her go with a totally new character. We would gotten our Tonya romance, but it wouldn’t be the same as her with Nate in Dark Star. So everything works out. It is still fun to speculate about how characters from different stories know each other. Vries working for The Department with Nate and Derringer. Vries knowing Jay from Dealer’s Choice. Nate being invil Derringer will get his own story.

  4. Oops hit return while trying to edit a sentence. Nate’s involvement in Try a Little Tenderness. And of course Derringer needs his own story. And we need more Pussycat Death Squad for sure

  5. I think most people miss those connections because I don’t typically write my stories with “series bait” meaning I don’t usually make it obvious. That’s not the case with the Meadowlark books. Those books are basically a serial, but I like to interconnect my stories because it’s fun.

  6. I really should switch to my laptop for comments. Now that I have a Kindle I am obsessed with highlighting and taking notes and re reading the books to keep track of the characters and any connections.

  7. That’s cool. I wish I had that level of discipline. I’ve got to do better though. I always thought I’d remember all my characters and their backstories. These days, especially with the fibro that’s getting harder and harder to do.

  8. I totally understand. I have fibro too. It’s hit or miss with all the highlighting and note taking. And it takes me forever to read anything. I also read things more than once because I know I miss things. The ability to highlight in different colors helps as well. It helps me keep things straight when I go back and read over the content I have highlighted. It also keeps me from getting overwhelmed when I read. I have inattentive adhd as well and I can end up skipping over content or jumping ahead. Fibro is so hard. It’s not just the pain and exhaustion, but the fog as well.

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