Fleshing out Secondary Characters

I hate to admit this…but I accidentally found a good way to deepen and add complexity to secondary characters. When I first began writing KISSING SHAKESPEARE, I wanted to try a using a dual point of view. Ahem. It didn’t work out for me. However, I wrote a few chapters from the POV of Jennet Hall, one of the most important secondary characters in the book. She was the one who I originally had in mind as the second point of view character.

To do this, I had to understand her, and not just superficially. We’ve all been to conferences when there’s a speaker who suggests that you “interview” your character. Or asks you what’s in your character’s closet. That’s fine, as far as it goes, but knowing her favorite color was blue wouldn’t help me to understand her goals, motivation, or inner conflict. And since the book takes place in the sixteenth century, she didn’t have a closet!

I had to think about the side of her that did the dirty work for her father, and the softer side who lovingly cared for her younger sisters after their mother died. How much she missed her mother, and how she’d become the healing woman for their small manor at a very young age. How did it feel to do what her father asked of her, when by its very nature, it made everyone who worked for them despise her? I don’t want to say to say anymore about Jennet because of spoilers, but after I felt I understood her goals, her motivations, and the internal and external conflicts she would face, I started writing.

I wrote a couple of chapters from her point of view. Not long after, I made the decision to switch to a single POV. Most of my work developing Jennet’s character was basically done at that point, except for tweaking certain aspects here and there. She fundamentally remained that girl I’d envisioned when I planned to use her as one of the POV characters. I’m proud of the way Jennet turned out. She’s not a cliche or stereotype; she’s a fully realized character with her own desires, rationales, and problems.

For another book, I tried having one of the secondary characters keep a journal. I thought that worked well too, and I may try that again in the future.

What are your secrets for fleshing out your secondary characters?

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