drop a quiz today. The insanity–though perpetually all-consuming for
me–will return for you on Thursday. Know this.
Secondary characters are like the Chili’s appetizer Triple Dipper of the
novel world. First, you’re not sure if you should even have them
around, then you realize you like them, and by the end you kind of
wish you hadn’t ordered the chicken tacos as your main course.
Without secondary characters, your main characters will
spend most of the book talking about dream sequences, looking in the mirror
and having flashbacks. So it’s important that you create full, well-rounded
secondary characters to help carry the load. Although they don’t get the
same spotlight as the main act, they still need to feel, act, think, yell, and purchase
Certificates of Deposit in a real, real way. Because if they don’t, not only
will Michiko Kakutani not review your book for the NYTimes, she’ll
probably light it on fire and post the video on Youtube.
Directions: Read the questions then take a permanent marker and
circle the letter that best corresponds to your own book on your
computer screen. If you are at an Internet Cafe the directions don’t
change, they just become slightly more subversive.
1. For whatever reason, you keep including scenes in which your main
character–a dude named Wendy– goes to his local watering hole,
Trinity Gardens, to drown his sorrow in Appletini’s. The cocktail
waitress there, Peter Pan, becomes an oft utilized secondary
character. What details do you include to help shed light on Peter
A. Peter Pan has “shimmering” black hair AND above average dental work.
B. Peter Pan wears a wedding ring at the bar during the week, but
takes it off on the weekends. She also has a child carseat on the
front passenger side of her yellow Mazda Miata.
C. Peter Pan always says, “I got you babe” when Wendy puts in his
drink orders, probably because of her love of Sonny and Cher (RIP!). She has
a scar on her chin from an incident involving her ex-husband, who was a Hell’s
Angel and she has the faded remains of a tattoo that says “Captain
Ho–” someone on her left forearm. She wears purple contact lenses
and tells men that they’re real, until they really get to know her or
realize that no one has purple eyes.
D. Peter Pan is married to Wendy.
2. If someone who’d read your book kidnapped you and forced you at
gunpoint to name all of your secondary characters and give brief
bios, you would:
A. Feel very uncomfortable, albeit slightly flattered that they read
B. Be able to name them and give some general characteristics, but
then be forced to rely on the improv class you took on a lark during
your semester abroad in Australia.
C. Whip through the bio’s, backgrounds, and mental makeup of all the
characters in such a small but intense time period that the person
who kidnapped you is overcome with emotions and asks you to lunch at
Chili’s for a Triple Dipper. You (politely) decline.
D. Explain that you had no “secondary” characters. They’re all main
characters in your heart. Then ask to be excused from the kidnapping
citing a technicality.
Mostly A’s: Hmmm. You don’t so much know about your secondary
characters as you do NOT know about them. Unsure as to whether or not
you’d be able to give the police an accurate sketch if one of them
hit you with their car. Mildly troubling.
Mostly B’s: You’re getting there, but you haven’t fully committed to
loving your secondary characters, which begs some questions about
commitment and other issues that you should lie to your significant
Mostly C’s: Yeah. You know your characters, have a good idea of
what’s going on in the background of their lives, and remain non-
flattered when felons ask you to lunch. Take me to book parties!
Mostly D’s: I’m pretty sure you’re talking about your protagonist.
How’d you do friends? Awesome? Unawesome? Intensely ambivalent?
Questions, Answers, Results, SAT Verbal scores, and other grievances
can be aired in the Comments section.