Secondary vs Tertiary Characters and the Princess Bride

I spent what time I had for writing this evening getting out half a scene with a secondary character.  This character will only show up twice in the entire book, but I think she’s going to be pretty memorable, and I really like how she’s turning out.

That’s the thing with secondary characters, they can’t be a cardboard cut-outs or props. To me that’s a Tertiary character, the type that doesn’t have anything to say, or any motivations beyond ,”Hot dogs, get your red-hots.” as far as the plot is concerned. There’s certainly a place for that sort of character, the stand-in.

But in my not nearly as humble as it should be opinion, secondary characters should be fully realized and if not necessarily memorable, at the very least believable.

Think Miracle Max in The Princess Bride (we’ll go with the movie). William Goldman could have easily written a throw away scene of someone performing CPR on Westley after the Pit of Despair, or Billy Crystal could technically have phoned that character in and gotten away with it. It would have made for a much less memorable part in a much less memorable film (or book if you want to discuss the book).

Instead, Goldman opted for a truly memorable secondary character, and not just with Miracle Max, but every secondary character, from the torturer, to the old King are all wonderfully realized (with a good bit of camp, but it fit the story perfectly).

That’s how I want my secondary characters to be (albeit with less light-heartedness in this particular book). I want them to be memorable and true to the story, and I really didn’t feel that was 100% necessary until I was working on this one.  Of course that means I’ll have to pick up some slack on the next pass and figure out exactly which characters fit secondary vs tertiary, but that’s what revisions are for.

What are your thoughts on secondary characters? Do you like to flesh out as many as you can or do you leave them as stand-ins/tertiary characters unless they’re truly needed?

– Grimm

P.S. Surpassed my #NaNoWriMo/#NaNoFiMo word quote for the second night running. Shouldn’t have too much trouble catching up to where I’m supposed to be.

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Filed under BookB, Character, NaNoFiMo, NaNoWriMo, TV/Movies, Word Count

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