Yesterday we looked at primary characters, so today we’ll look at secondary characters — basically everybody else in your story.

He may be fully developed
with distinctive traits, a
personality, and back-story,
but Dumbledore is a
secondary character.

Secondary characters can be divided into 3 groups:

  1. Major secondary characters: These are the ones we think of when we say secondary characters.  These characters are nearly as important as the primary character(s) and may have their own backstories and subplots.  In Harry Potter, some major secondary characters would be Ron, Hermione, Malfoy, Dumbledore, and Snape.
  2. Minor secondary characters: These characters are less well-developed but are still distinctive enough to possibly be memorable.  In Harry Potter, this would be the Weasley twins, Professor McGonagall, and Neville.
  3. Filler characters: In a movie, these characters would basically be extras.  They are the folks you need to fill out a scene or the world, but they are generally stock characters with no real distinctive features. In Harry Potter, most of the student body falls in this category.

    Secondary characters are important for a variety of reasons.  Obviously they help fill out your world.  They make it more realistic.  But what makes secondary characters so interesting is the way they interact with your primary character.  A reader can learn a lot about a character by seeing how he/she interacts with others.  (This is true about real people too.)  It’s a great way to impart information by showing it instead of telling it.  Also, secondary characters will view the primary character different from the way the primary character views him/herself.  This kind of multi-layered approach can really add depth both to your characters and the story as a whole.

    Finally, secondary characters can act as a foil to the primary characters.  For example Malfoy is the foil to Harry Potter in school.  He is what Harry could have been had he been raised by an important wizarding family aware of his heritage instead of by the fiercely muggle Dursleys.

    © Copyright 2006-2011 Madeline Smoot. All rights reserved.
    May be excerpted and duplicated for educational purposes.
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