One of the things I love about romance novels isn’t just the central love story that moves the entire plot forward. I mean, yes, this is important and necessary—the romance genre has rules and we must abide by them! Happily Ever After or BUST (though a happy-for-now will suffice).
This is all well and good, but I love side characters. Specifically, I love when a main character has a core friend group that are always around. They do so much for a story and are relegated to just that—the side.
Now, in a perfect Romancelandia world, perhaps in another book or two you’ll get to read their love story, too. But before that, they are there for specific reasons that add to the main couple’s journey to falling in love. And I knew I wanted the main characters of my debut novel, The Accidental Pinup, to have friends who would add something extra to the plot.
The Set Up
Side characters are often part of the “inciting incident” that bring the two love interests together. Adding in someone the main character already trusts is a sneaky way I like to gain readers’ trust, too. This is the main character’s bestie, so surely this is a good idea, right?
In my debut, The Accidental Pinup, my main character, Cassie has a best friend Dana, who is a lingerie model and fashion influencer who gets pregnant after years of trying, just as the launch of her lingerie line is about to happen. Eventually it’s Dana and the lingerie company execs who think Cassie will be the perfect model for the provocative ad campaign, which up until then, Cassie thought she was going to be photographing and art directing, not modeling in.
Without Dana’s pregnancy and insistence on Cassie starring in the campaign, Cassie wouldn’t work with her professional rival, Reid, who also happens to be very hot. And then the story can really get going …
A truly memorable side character is one who sticks with readers as they continue through the story but doesn’t take away from the main plotline. Enough that readers hope for those friends or siblings to get their own books one day, but not so much that they’d rather read about the side characters than the main couple! In this regard, I like to give side characters very distinct personalities and traits that stand out and will intrigue readers as those tendencies pop up in scenes with those friends.
For Cassie’s friends in The Accidental Pinup, I wanted this group to be believable—I hope readers see how easily these women would become close. But I also wanted each character to be distinct and to do that, I made them almost caricatures of a specific trait. I also made them all coworkers at Cassie’s studio, Buxom Boudoir, so they were always milling about during photo shoots and meetings with Cassie’s love interest, Reid.
Cassie’s ride-or-die BFF since middle school, Dana, is that loud, outspoken, always-yelling friend who commands any room she walks into with fire engine red hair and a body for days. Sam is perpetually grumpy, wise beyond her years (she’s the youngest in the group) and is actually a big softy underneath her all-black attire and big combat boots. Kit is a dainty Brit who exclusively wears pastels and is always at the ready with a cupcake or face cream—whatever Cassie might need in any given situation.
I also like to give these characters at least one opportunity to show their own vulnerabilities and insecurities, so the main character is given a chance to show how they support their friends as well, because friendship goes both ways. This way, the friend characters don’t solely exist as moving pieces for the main characters’ story.
A Dose of Reality
I love an inside joke with friends that no one else knows is funny, but when I’m with the right people, we can barely contain ourselves when it comes up. I also love when a friend tells me what I need to hear, even if it’s difficult. And I cannot live without quick coffee dates that turn into lunch and then dinner and then it’s suddenly midnight and I have no idea where the time went. When I was creating Cassie’s friends, I turned to my own friends for inspiration. I’m lucky that I have friends like Dana, Sam, and Kit.
Similar to Dana, I have a friend who pushes me to do things I assume will make me uncomfortable, but ultimately have a positive payout. I also have a friend like Sam, who looks like she has somewhere better to be and never says much, but when I need tough love with a heavy dose of loyalty and support, she’s there for me with an adorable scowl on her face the entire time (confession: I may also be this friend). And when I need someone to take me out for a fancy brunch and bring me homemade baked goods because I had a crappy day? I have a friend who is just like Kit, ready to diffuse a situation with a demure smile hiding a scrappy attitude to make the people she cares about feel better.
There are elements of my real-life friends in this book because they have made my life better. And because Cassie’s girlfriends are inspired by different things my friends do, I think they bring a dose of reality to the book, along with outlandish suggestions and whimsical moments. Memorable side characters remind the main characters about who they are while they go through difficult things, they put them in their place when they inevitably have a temper tantrum over their love interests, and they are fiercely loyal and lift the main characters up when they need it most.
And who knows, maybe they will get their own stories one day, so they can shine just as brightly as they want their friends to…