Who says main characters get all the attention?
Think of Dorie in Finding Nemo.
As a secondary character, she steals the show with her humor.
Rhino, the loveable hamster in Bolt, adds panache as he cheers for Bolt and becomes endearing to us in his own right.
How about Abu from Aladdin, the kids in Incredibles?
Who can forget the old lady with a shotgun in Ratatouille?
Or housekeeper, Minnie, from The Help?
Now, how can you create a secondary character that's loveable, despicable, memorable, hilarious, endearing, or infuriating?
Give your secondary characters a fascinating backstory.
Alley Cat Pepper suggested journaling from the perspective of my antagonist over a year ago. Since then, I've done so with a variety of other characters. Getting into their heads has definitely helped me write stronger secondary characters.
Make him/her sequel worthy.
You know you've created an in-depth secondary character when readers beg for a sequel from that character's perspective. One example would be Surrender the Dawn by Mary Lu Tyndall. I so desperately wanted to read Luke's story because he was an excellent secondary character with a lot of depth.
Give them a quirky trait, particularly as they are relating to your hero or heroine.
Any character who shows up more than once should have at least a few identifying traits.
Maybe the car repairman has a nervous tic and always shakes when he's signing the receipts.
Perhaps the doctor who has diagnosed your heroine's cancer always smiles when giving bad news. Its a nervous habit.
If they are a more major secondary character, go even more in-depth with their personality.
Think of your secondary character who has the most major role in the story. Consider taking a few minutes to take an MBTI assessment on your most important secondary character. Interview your secondary character as if your his or her therapist.
The Book Buddy is a resource that has helped me increase the depth of my minor characters.
Think about motivations of this secondary character. Why do they do what they do? What are their needs? Do they have a "lie" they believe that affects the main character?
For instance, although we are each responsible for our own journeys perhaps mom believed a lie that she then "taught" to the main character during childhood. Main character has to unlearn this lie throughout her journey.
You don't have to include all these details in the story (in fact you probably shouldn't) but it can help you to understand their journey and to write more compelling scenes.
Don't forget the most compelling secondary characters don't need to be human.
Think of Dorie. Abu. The dog in The Accidental Tourist.
Pets can be believable and loveable companions to your character and have their own quirky traits.
Remember opposites attract isn't just true in romantic scenarios.
Sidekicks are often compelling and interesting because they have opposite personality traits to the main character. Think of movies with a "funny" sidekick. Danny DeVito has often played this role in the movies. These characters make us laugh. Even in the most serious books (I enjoy writing what my hubby likes to call women with issues fiction...though who among us doesn't have issues) we need a break for laughter.
A good secondary character is an emotion trigger.
Our main character typically isn't neutral toward a well-drawn secondary character. She helps draw out emotion from the main character.
For a great example of this, check out this post by Susan May Warren.
Do you have a favorite secondary character from the movies or books? Why is he or she your favorite? Or who is the most compelling secondary character in your story and why?
Julia enjoys writing women's fiction whenever she can find a chair free of smushed peanut butter sandwiches and lego blocks. She is a wife and homeschooling mama of two littles. She also enjoys reading and reviewing books for Library Journal, The Title Trakk, and Christian Library Journal.