Researching Secondary Characters
This month we have been talking all about research. What to look for, where to look, how to stay off FBI watch lists (haha just kidding, that’s unavoidable). For this article, we are going to talk about researching secondary characters, yours or any that are public domain, and the art of the spin-off.
Are you the star of your life story or a secondary character in someone else’s? I was laying bed last night thinking about this. I picture my life as a movie, myself in the limelight of it all. But, in reality, that isn’t how I feel or how I see myself. I am the mother of my children, the wife of my husband, a spewer of words, etc and so forth. I am a secondary character. Or am I? Who are you? Who are your characters?
In our writing, we have characters who push themselves to the front and claim the limelight. They are the MCs. They know it and we know it. Do the secondary characters know it? We often overlook their stories and sometimes we miss gems in doing so. A quick peek at my bookshelf shows me the stories that weren’t told by the original author and make me wonder if I am overlooking any of my characters.
Researching Secondary Characters: Who & How
Researching secondary characters and fleshing out their backstories is an underrated art in and of itself. Doing so opens many more doors for your work and expands your writer’s eye beyond the immediate plot arcs. A quick perusal of my own bookshelves shows a slew of missed opportunities later explored by other writers. If you miss out telling a character’s story there is a chance 100 years from now someone else will! (haha)
Those Who Tread Before Us
- Wicked is the tale of Elphaba. Also known as the Wicked Witch of the West. She was the villain in The Wizard of Oz but takes on the sympathetic spotlight when given her own story.
- Grendel gives a more heartfelt portrayal of the gruesome creature depicted in Beowulf.
- March is a retelling of the beloved classic, Little Women, from the perspective of their father who is not in their lives.
- Ahab’s Wife gives us a complete feminine version of Moby Dick based on the one line that mention’s her as his spouse.
- Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister is another fun example in which we see a familiar story (that of Cinderella) from the perspective of one of the sisters in a slightly varied retelling.
We Love Sidekicks
Those were just a few examples of how perspective can change the entire story or at least, your opinion of the characters themselves. I think we can all agree on a few characters who would we love to see more of. Such as:
- A Harry Potter book from Hermoine’s perspective.
- A book from Boo Radley’s perspective. What was his life like, locked in that house? What truly motivated him?
- Imagine the tragic life story of Abigail Freemantle. Better known as Mother Abigail. Her character was woven into The Stand thoroughly but no doubt her backstory would make an intriguing story on its own.
- We’ve seen the Wicked Witch of the West’s “backstory,” but how about Glenda the Good Witch?
- And, the recent revamp of Alice in Wonderland has given us more insight into some of our favorite crazy characters but, greedy wordsters we are, we always want more. How about an expose on that Caterpillar?
In Your Writing
I hope this makes you take pause and think about your characters. Are you telling the story you want to tell or are you missing a character who is sitting in the shadows? I know we can’t write every character’s story but sometimes at least writing them for ourselves provides some satisfaction. And maybe, just maybe, we will realize that changing our character perspective is just what a story needs to bump it from Okay to OMG. You can find some great tips on creating spin-offs from Joanna Penn.
So, the next time writer’s block creeps up on you just pull out your WIP, pick a sidekick or villain (or any secondary character) and tell the story! You may get a whole new perspective on where you want your WIP to go.
Until next time scribe happy and stay sassy!
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