My onion novel, CHINA LILY, spans decades. My main family, the Cannaras, travel the globe (of their time, which is the Fourteen hundreds). Lots of time on ships. Lots of time on horseback.

In their distant locations, over their diverse times, they meet different people. These people fill the chapters they are in, but then they are gone. They are really secondary characters to the novel, but nothing could be accomplished without them. In their own time frame, they are front-and-center.

This same situation happened in my *thriller*. The time frame was much different (squeezed into a few days). And the location was in the same city, until near the end. But the nature of the immediacy, the surprising twists of plot, and the intense action called upon the use of many secondary characters. They were figuratively press-ganged into action. They did their bit and were not called upon again. Louie-the-dog was to be a secondary character with a ‘walk on’ part. He stayed.

 I am having a growing fascination for these secondary characters. They have to be developed within paragraphs instead of chapters. Their dialogue and thoughts have to be concise and unique from the start. They possess a freedom of action the main characters do not have. They are not loaded down with baggage. They are a challenge to write and difficult to rein in. They are generally saucy, and rarely ponder their lot. Yet they must be real and not just plot devices. They have to be taken at face value and accepted quickly. They must stand out in the background.

Secondary characters are a challenge to write and a thrill to create. Each and every one of them excite me.

Hmmmm …  a novel of only secondary characters  … hmmmm…


“Fifth Business” by Robertson Davis