by Isabo Kelly
With the popularity of series fiction, writers need to take a closer look at their secondary characters. Those people written to suit a specific purpose in the plot might so engage readers they start calling for them to have their own books! This is a testament to the author's skill, that they created a secondary character so interesting reader want more. But it does mean, if you're considering writing a series, you need to start paying as much attention to those potential future main characters as you do the MCs of your current book.
So what makes a secondary character into a good hero? They have to be compelling. Just as your protagonists should be well-rounded and complex, so too should your secondary characters. Make sure they aren't just cardboard, 2-dimensional clichés. The old yarn that villains are the heroes of their own stories applies to all the people populating a novel.
But if you want to leave yourself room to turn any of your secondary characters into heroes, there are a few things to keep in mind:
(1) Names. Writers can spend massive amounts of time getting their protagonists' names right. But as often as not, all other names are either given less attention, or the "hero worthiness" of the name doesn't come into play. Whether that secondary character is a future hero-in-training or not, consider the name you give them carefully, with a mind to who they are and who they could be.
(2) Physical appearance. This isn't to say all characters must be attractive. In fact, it's much more realistic if they aren't. But make sure the physical attributes of all characters are something you could work with later. "Ugly" characters can be sexy if their personalities are strong (think Beast in Beauty and the Beast), and good-looking characters can be ugly if they are petty, shallow, or mean. Just be aware of your character's appearance and make conscious choices to keep from boxing yourself into a corner.
(3) Backstory. Here's where a hero can arise from even a "bad" character. Consider their backstory. This doesn't need to be on the page of the book they aren't the MCs of—in fact, it's better if it's not. But give yourself some room to think about why that specific person is the way they are. What brought them to this place in their lives? Within that backstory, you can find your heroic qualities.
(4) How far they will go? For some readers, certain acts will make a character irredeemable. If there's ever a hope of turning a particular person into a hero, think carefully about what they do and why they do it. Again, I'm not saying you can't push the envelope or that you should make everyone who might be a future main character nice. Some of the best heroes grow from wounded or tragic pasts. Just be aware of how, or if, their bad decisions can be redeemed.
Not all secondary characters will be future heroes. Not all are meant to be. But when considering a potential series, keep in mind that any of your people could step forward and announce themselves in need of their own book. Be prepared for this by paying as much attention to their development as you do your main characters, and you'll never write yourself into an inescap-able hole. Make sure all your characters are compelling, and you will never run out of stories to tell. ♥
Isabo Kelly is the author of multiple science fiction, fantasy and paranormal romances. She's just sold the third book in her Fire and Tears fantasy romance series to Samhain Publishing, and the hero of that story is a "redeemed villain". He was super fun to write. For more on Isabo and her books, visit her at www.isabokelly.com, follow her on Twitter @IsaboKelly or friend her on Facebook www.facebook.com/IsaboKelly.