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Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Minor Characters: Big Humor in Small Packages

Jayne Denker

I write romantic comedies—emphasis on the comedy part. I suppose I’d be able to write angst-filled dramas if I really tried, but I’ve always believed that if I’m going to spend many months crafting a decent story, and have a whole mess of characters taking up residence in my head, I might as well be laughing the entire time.

However, there’s one thing I’ve learned: The main character can’t have too much of the cray-cray. The reader is in that person’s head and expects to sympathize with her or him. If the main character is too weird, it alienates the reader.

So I reserve the highest level of insanity for the peripheral players. They can be there for pure comic relief, or they can play integral parts in the plot, or both, but whichever role you set for them, you—and they—have the freedom to make them as bizarro as you like, with fewer consequences.

I had a lot of fun writing my second book, Unscripted, about Faith Sinclair, a high-powered TV producer who gets fired from her own show. She’s fun, and crazy in her own way, but the people surrounding her are really off the rails—just the way I like it. She has a freeloading stepbrother, a domineering movie producer mother who will only drink “pure glacier water” (which Faith notes probably has mammoth poop in it), and Randy Barstow (also known as Randy Bastard), the sexist head of the TV network who swears so much he turns the air around him blue. Oh—and there’s Bea, a grouch of a studio gate guard who hates Faith on principle, a few air-headed actors whom Faith has to shepherd like wayward children, and others populating the story.

I didn’t know people exactly like these characters, but I did infuse them with little bits and bobs of eccentricity I discovered in real people I’ve come across in my daily travels. With the character of Dominic, Faith’s perpetually cheerful old Italian stepfather who loves to surf and is always on a quest for some “tasty waves,” I paid homage to a dear cousin of mine who had an accent so thick that I had to “translate” what he was saying for anyone not in my family...even though he was speaking English, not Italian, at the time.

“Dominic. How are you liking the beach?”
“Is very nice. I surf every day now. I think I buy the place.”
“Oh really?”
“Eh, we see.”
“I think you should, Dominic.”
“Why you no call me Papa?”
I admired his persistence; we’d been having the same conversation for years.
“Because I’m nearly forty, Dominic. I don’t call anybody Papa.”
He shook Mason’s hand and, still gripping it, pointed at him with the other. “You call him Papa, yes?”
Okay, that one threw me. I frowned at my stepfather, puzzled, then glanced at Mason, who also looked bewildered. But after a second, Mason’s confusion cleared. “Oh. I think you mean ‘Daddy.’”
“Ah!” Dominic crowed, nodding. “Ah-hah! Yes! Daddy! Hah?”
My mouth fell open. “Dominic! You dirty old man!”
He flapped his free hand dismissively, still beaming, still trapping Mason in an apparently permanent handshake. “I like him. You keep.” Then he turned to my blessedly good-natured boyfriend. “You come with me. I get you drink. You play ukulele?”
“Sorry . . . ?”
“Ukulele. Is good. You play? If no, I teach. Come . . .”
Dominic led Mason through the airy, all-white “mod” main floor of the spacious beach house, then down some stairs to the entertainment room and the bar. I was left to wend my way into the kitchen, where my mother was helping her chef with the last of the dinner preparations.
“Dominic has kidnapped Mason, I see,” she murmured, sprinkling some slivered almonds on the salad.
I put the flowers we’d brought on the counter and started hunting in the cupboards for a vase. “Since when does he play the ukulele?”
“Who says he does?”

Dominic, and all the other minor characters, drew me to the manuscript every day. I loved writing about Faith and her hunky college professor love interest, Mason, but I really looked forward to seeing what the minor characters were going to do next. (And let’s face it, I hardly ever knew what they were going to do next.) With Unscripted put to bed, and me missing my loony cast of characters, I decided to double down on the crazy by setting my third book, Down on Love, in a small town filled with even more eccentrics. And why not? We could all use more comic relief in our lives!


One of Hollywood’s hardest working women is about to discover there's a lot more drama behind the camera than in front of it...

Faith “Freakin’” Sinclair probably shouldn’t have called her boss a perv…or grabbed his “privates.” But as creator of the hit dramedy Modern Women she’d had enough of his sexist insults. Now she’s untouchable in the industry—not in a good way. The only way to redeem herself is to convince Alex the wildly popular wildly demanding former star of her show to come back. But there’s one obstacle in her way—one very handsome broad-shouldered obstacle…

Professor Mason Mitchell is head of the theater department where Alex is studying “real” acting. The only way he’ll let Faith anywhere near Alex is if she agrees to co-teach a class. It’s an offer she can’t refuse—and as it turns out the professor just might end up teaching Faith that there’s more to life than work—and that real-life love scenes are way more fun than fake ones…

Jayne Denker is the author of three contemporary romantic comedies, By Design, Unscripted, and Down on Love, and is hard at work on a fourth. 

She lives in a small town in western New York, USA, with her husband, son, and one very sweet senior-citizen basement kitteh who loves nothing more than going outside, where she sits on the front walk and wonders why she begged to go outside. 

When Jayne’s not hard at work on another novel (or, rather, when she should be hard at work on another novel), she can usually be found frittering away stupid amounts of time on social media.


  1. Ha! Yes, it's true- your main character has to be grounded enough that your readers can recognize bits of them, but it's very helpful to have exaggerated odd balls in your story as well.

  2. YES! Bring on the quirky characters. I've also found my MC has to be someone normal, but the side characters have all kinds of mind-boggling issues. Secondary characters are so freeing that way. =)

  3. Thanks for having me, Louise! This was fun! :)

  4. You're welcome, Jayne.

    I like ordinary, every day kinda people. Silly, long names put me off as well.

    But then put those ordinary every day kinda characters into extraordinary situations! :)