Secondary characters (Grey's Anatomy spoilers if you haven't seen it)

Toward the end of the season of Grey's Anatomy, I would say, before each episode, "I hope this isn't the one where Denny dies." And when he did, I cried for an hour. Solid. My dh said, "You KNEW he was going to die. It makes sense that he died. He was a secondary character. You never knew anything about him." I said, "All I needed to know was that he LOVED IZZY - that was enough."

So was I crying for Denny or for Izzy? Who did I know better? All I knew about Denny was that he was well-off, he'd been healthy, he was 36 and he had been waiting for a heart for a long time. He hated being sick. And he loved Izzy. So, point for the dh. I didn't know much about Denny, but I cried like a baby when he died.

How do you make a secondary character that powerful? Strong enough of a character that the reader cries when he dies? Is it bringing him to life through your hero or heroine's eyes? Showing their sympathies for this secondary character that makes the reader have sympathy for him?

I don't write a lot of secondary characters. I like having my hero and heroine running through the jungle or up a mountain or stranded in Antarctica. Having too many people on a page gets distracting for me. I was reading a book not long ago where there were SO MANY PEOPLE. I could not keep them straight. Clearly it was part of a series, but man! And I was talking to a USA Today bestselling author last week (ahem!), she was talking about writing an ensemble book and that she had to cram so much into it. Heck, I have trouble with just the h/h!

Have you written a secondary character that tried to steal the show, that you fell in love with, that you maybe killed and then regretted it? How did you make them someone to care about?

Oh, Trish, I know you say he does nothing for you but check this out!

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Toni Anderson said...

In the first book I wrote secondary characters ran rampant and I knew so much about them--that's why it took me forever to write! The second story I wrote I concentrated on the H/h and it was easier to write but lacked some of the complexity.

I think there's a certain amount of mystery you canretain with secondary characters that lets you fill in the blanks--and if they've had a hard time you can't help rooted for them!

Anonymous said...

I don't know hoy they do it, but the GA writers make every single person on the screen real. The chief's niece in the last episode, his wife, Christina's mom when she had the miscarraige, Thatcher, the bomb squad cop that got blown up, the EMT that ran, if they're on that show they are real.
That's the key for me when I'm reading too. I don't mind multiple characters as slong as they're all fully developed individuals.

Anonymous said...

Agree with Mary Beth. They do make characters on GA very real. I just watched a movie where a secondary character died, and I cried. I almost never do that! But it was so heart-wrenching, I just couldn't help shedding a tear. That's powerful.

Rene said...

I wrote a secondary character who got tons and tons of comments from contest judges and CP's. They all loved him and wanted me to make him a hero in a subsequent book. I wrote a second book and he was secondary again, but getting stronger, preparing him to be the hero of the third book. I don't know if the book will ever get written because I don't think I can sell him without some back-up. He's Asian-American, not a hero you see too often in romance. Plus, he is involved with vampires, another big strike.

MJFredrick said...

I feel so bad I haven't responded to any comments - I have been so sick, I don't even want to get off the couch!

Toni, I think you're right about the mystery of the secondary characters, since we're rarely in their heads. Plus, I think we can put them through more, their destiny, especially in romance, isn't predetermined. We don't KNOW if they'll get a HEA.

Mary Beth, you're right about those GA characters. They just seem to give the characters ONE thing we can identify with, and we root for them. I think even more, is we're kind of putting ourselves in the main cast's place. We hurt for the chief because of his niece. We relate to Thatcher because of Meredith. We're devastated for Denny because Izzy is. I think that could be the key.

Olga, I always cry when someone dies in a movie, like in the one my mom and I saw last week. I empathized with the main character's pain.

Rene, he sounds like a great tortured hero! He needs his redemption!


M.J. Fredrick's books on Goodreads
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Where There's SmokeWhere There's Smoke
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I'm a mom, a wife, a teacher and a writer. I have five cats and a dog to keep me company. I love bookstores and libraries and Netflix - movies are my greatest weakness.
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