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How important are secondary characters? Put it this way wouldn’t a novel be flat without them? Who would your character fight against? Fall in love with?
Ellen Semple or Ellen Simple, as main character Valerie Anthrope calls her, is far into middle-age, has no interest in fashion, wears bobble hats and long woollen scarves, calls everyone ‘dear’, and is bossy, interfering and downright annoying! Yet she almost became the star in my latest chick lit novel The Fall of the Misanthrope: I bitch therefore I am.
And I LOVED writing about her! You don’t have to worry whether your readers will like or dislike a secondary. They can be hateful, annoying, evil and downright unpleasant. It’s brilliant!
But what is it about secondary characters that take over? Or try to? Should we have written THEIR story instead? Oh no, no, no. It doesn’t mean that at all. If we did that we’d have to make them ‘sympathetic’. That means they will need to have redeeming qualities and have something that readers can connect with.
Think of all the secondary characters in books you’ve enjoyed. It’s the MAIN character you loved, the secondary were either the baddies—and they died or got their just deserts in the end, or they are someone your MAIN character bounces off. In other words, we need strong second characters to carry the main one, without them our characters become flat and one dimensional.
So what is it about Ellen Semple that I loved? All she wants from life is to help people. She and her husband went to places like Ghana and Afghanistan to help build hospitals and schools. They were the type of people to march the streets carrying banners for better sanitation in prisons or stop animal experiences. They’d tie themselves to railings for their beliefs. When her husband died she vowed to carry on his life work. It took her away from home for long periods, so when she discovered her nephew (she never had children of her own) had split up from his wife and she didn't even know, she was horrified and came home immediately. She decided she'd stay home and keep an eye on her beloved nephew, Alex. But, and it's a big but, she couldn't' stop 'helping'.
She spotted Valerie putting flowers on a grave when she was there visiting her late husband's resting place. She saw her again the following month and the next. Valerie looked so lonely, Ellen thought, and so decided to help her.
By chance, Valerie was looking for staff for her brokerage and Ellen bustled her way in and practically employed herself. She decided that Valerie was poor and needed financial help, so she coerced Alex into buying insurance from Valerie's brokerage, but didn’t envisage him falling for her!
He's one of those rich playboys and one of the reasons why his wife divorced him, Ellen thinks, and she worries that Valerie will get hurt and become even more damaged than she already is.
Ellen brought them together but now she has to part them! Sometimes it's hard being a busybody.
Paperback coming SOON
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