Season 2, Episode 16: Secondary Character Development

This week on MomWrites…

Melanie spends some time in a sensory deprivation tank (in someone’s house?!), gets an A+ from Kemlo this week for character development and creepiness, and gets her questions answered about ancillary characters (to ax, or not to ax?).

Mel decides to turn her random security guard character into someone useful – a human, empathetic foil for all these flat affect characters, deciding that she needs to either ax him completely or find an arc and resolution for his character. The important thing is that his actions or departure effect’s Mel’s protagonist, somehow.

In other chapters, Kemlo’s having trouble reading one of the other characters, who’s supposed to be a later romantic interest but Mel’s having trouble translating the relationship between this person and the main character and advises Mel to keep building the character and the relationship.

“Is this one of those situations where you’re not going to get it right the first time, but every time you go over it you put one more little piece in, one more little piece in…you don’t try to get it all in right out of the gate?” – Abby Mathews

Yes, Abby, that’s exactly right. Each time you ask yourself why – why’s the character behaving this way? What are they motivated by? — you’re going to get another layer, another level of nuance in your writing.

According to Lisa Cron in Story Genius, every character believes they’re the protagonist in their own story, and we should write accordingly if we want our characters to behave in a way that is consistent for them, for their story, and the story they’re telling themselves. We don’t just want reaction – we want action – real-life people, for instance, don’t merely react. We act! We make decisions based on what we want, what we’re trying to avoid, what we’re ultimately after in life.

Melanie and Kemlo go over some dialogue in-detail to determine if there’s a need for subtext (there is!) and if there are things she can add or subtract to make the conversations more clear. Even if you don’t want to spell out what another character’s true motivations are if you’re writing in the first person, you can lay clues to help your protagonist—and your reader!—figure it out along the way.

Subscribe to get our latest content by email.
Just check the "Mom Writes Podcast" box below!