More Than Just Second Fiddle…On My Love of Secondary Characters

What do Han Solo, Magnus Bane, Duckie Dale and Finnick O’Dair have in common? 

They are all shining examples of unforgettable secondary characters in fiction (or in Duckie’s case, film.) If you are a reader of this blog than my love of secondary characters is WELL documented. Some of my closest bloggy friends often tease me about how I have fallen, yet again, for another secondary character. In fact, I often find myself falling harder for the secondary, supporting characters  than the main characters. Does this happen to you too? It would appear that I am not alone in my feelings. Do a search on secondary characters and you will find a ton of articles and lists written by people just like me, people who can’t get enough of the supporting characters found in fiction. Here is a link to a post entitled “When Secondary Characters Attack.”  I even found a Secondary Character Blog Hop beginning this month for people like me! So, it seems I am in good company.

First a few facts. A secondary, supporting or minor character in fiction and literature can be defined in a number of ways. But most source’s agree that they are written to complement the major characters and help move the plot events forward. A supporting character is meant to enhance the story and add depth and dimension to the plot or the main character(s). And I have found that most of my favorite secondary characters also add an element of comic relief. Give me a book with humor over dull and dry any day. Author Katie McGarry (Pushing the Limits and Dare You To) admits to sometimes enjoying the writing of secondary characters more than her main characters:

 Don’t get me wrong, I have plenty of love for my hero and heroine, but sometimes I come across a secondary character who steals my heart or just makes me laugh. 

Yes! My sentiments exactly. Furthermore, what I have discovered is that the books that I enjoy, especially the books that I REALLY, REALLY love and connect with, almost always feature strong secondary characters. And yes, sometimes they do overshadow my love for even the book’s main characters (which Rachel Burkot, assistant editor for Harlequin’s Romantic Suspense line, termed the “Epic Secondary Character Eclipse Phenomena.”)

Loving secondaries as much as I do has really made me try to think about them more critically. And I’ve found that most of my favorite secondaries can be categorized into one of four groups: the sidekick character; the quirky/ eccentric character;  the mysterious and/ or charismatic character and the villain or antihero character. And I have favorite secondaries that fall into each of these groups.

The sidekick is the classic supporting character: think Dr. Watson to Sherlock Holmes or Samwise Gamshee to Frodo Baggins. The term sidekick makes me feel very action/ adventure-y, Han Solo to Luke Skywalker, for example, but doesn’t necessarily have to be. Sidekicks can be full of dry, sarcastic humor in addition to being supportive, brave, wise, and, very often, self sacrificing.

Favorite secondary sidekick characters:

 

  • Kenji Kishimoto (Shatter Me and Unravel Me by Tahereh Mafi)
  • Carswell Thorne and Iko (Cinder and Scarlet by Marissa Meyer)
  • Finnick O’Dair (Catching Fire and Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins)
  • Roar (Under the Never Sky, Liv and Roar and Through the Ever Night by Veronica Rossi)
  • Benebic “the Beast” Waroch (Grave Mercy and Dark Triumph by R. L. LaFevers)
  • Zuzanna  (Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor)
  • Kim (If I Stay by Gayle Foreman)
  • Hassan Harbish (An Abundance of Katherines by John Green)
  • Cokie Coquard (Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys)
  • Dove and Corr (The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater)

The quirky/ eccentric  character is almost always humorous in some way. They are also often artsy or odd. Sometimes they are seen as an outcast or a misfit, like our friend Duckie Dale above or the eccentric Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland.

Favorite quirky eccentric secondary characters: 

  • Uncle Big and Sara (The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson)
  • D’Angelo (Dee) (Just One Day by Gayle Forman)
  • Calla (The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater)
  • Malachi Wolfe (Bloodlines, The Golden Lily and The Indigo Spell by Richelle Mead)
  • Grimalkin and Ironhorse (The Iron Fey and The Call of the Forgotten Series by Julie Kagawa)
  • Clive the Cat (Wallbanger by Alice Clayton)

The mysterious character is just what the terms imply. He or she may be benevolent or malevolent and there is an element of the unknown  that always keeps the reader guessing.  A classic example would be Boo Radley from To Kill a Mockingbird.

Favorite secondary mysterious characters:

  • Phen and Angela (Unearthly, Hallowed, Radiant, Boundless by Cynthia Hand)
  • Ronan (The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater)
  • Tool (Ship Breaker and The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi)
  • Orma (Seraphina by Rachel Hartman)
  • Jaguar (The Madman’s Daughter by Megan Shepard)
  • Yolande (Sunshine by Robin McKinley)
  • Brimstone (Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor)
The charismatic character is often mysterious, or they may just be a character that you can’t help but like, even if he or she isn’t written to be the most likable. Maybe he or she is a criminal or a liar, or perhaps a sexy heartbreaker. Maybe they are ALL three. There is just something about them that fascinates the reader.
Favorite charismatic secondary characters:
  • Magnus Bane (The Mortal Instruments Series and The Infernal Devices Series by Cassandra Clare)
  • Kaleb (Hourglass and Timepiece by Myra McEntire)
  • Sybella (Grave Mercy and Dark Triumph by R.L. LaFevers)
  • Ridley (Beautiful Creatures Series by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl)
  • Santangelo (Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta)
  • Cosme (Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson)
  • Barron Sharpe (White Cat, Red Glove and Black Heart by Holly Black)
  • Gargarin (Froi of the Exiles and Quintana of Charyn by Melina Marchetta)
  • Thomas McKee and Jimmy Hailler (Saving Francesca and The Piper’s Son by Melina Marchetta)
  • Cole St. Clair (Linger and Forever by Maggie Stiefvater)

And finally, the villain or antihero. This is the bad guy (or girl) that you love to hate. Or it is the character that has always been presented as the villain, having no heroic qualities,  but in the end turns out to be more redeemable than expected. Professor Snape in the Harry Potter books is who I think of when I think antihero.

Favorite secondary villain/ antiheroes: 

  • Froi (Finnikin of the Rock, Froi of the Exiles and Quintana of Charyn by Melina Marchetta)
  • DeMalo (Blood Red Road and Rebel Heart by Moira Young)
  • Samjeeza (Unearthly, Hallowed, and Boundless by Cynthia Hand)
  • Willie Woodley (Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys)
  • Jackel (The Immortal Rules and The Eternity Cure by Julie Kagawa)

You can probably see how many secondary characters fall into more than just one of these categories. And the ones that fall into all of them? Well, those are your SHOW STEALERS.

There are several secondaries that I have already listed who I would consider a show stealer. But if I had to choose just one? That’s actually easy:

  • Tiny Cooper (Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green)

(That book should have been called Tiny Cooper, Tiny Cooper.)

And I have to give a shout out to a few recent characters I have met that have grabbed my attention in a BIG way. Be on the look out for these secondaries in the coming months:

  • Toby (The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider)
  • Sturmhond (Siege and Storm by Leah Bardugo)
  • Ringer (The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey)

One thing I liked about putting this post together was seeing all the connections. Here’s one:  a handful of the secondaries listed above have gone on to play larger roles or become the ‘star’ of their own book. This, of course makes me VERY HAPPY:)

  • Froi (main character of Froi of the Exiles and Quintana of Charyn by Melina Marcehtta)
  • Thomas McKee (main character of The Piper’s Son by Melina Marchetta)
  • Kaleb (main character of Timepeice by Myra McEntire)
  • Magnus Bane (main character of The Bane Chronicles by Cassandra Clare)
  • Sybella and Beast (main characters of Dark Triumph by R. L. LaFevers)
  • Ronan (larger role in The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater)
  • DeMalo (larger role in Rebel Heart by Moira Young)
  • Phaedra (larger role in Quintana of Charyn by Melina Marchetta)
  • Cole St. Clair (larger role in Forever by Maggie Stiefvater)

Something else that is evident: John Green and Melina Marchetta ROCK at crafting amazing secondary characters.

Green excels at writing quirky, often adorably nerdy, always funny, charismatic, show stealing sidekicks like Hassan Harbish from An Abundance of Katherines,  Radar and Ben from Paper Towns, the Colonel from Looking for Alaska and, of course, the indomitable Tiny Cooper from Will Grayson, Will Grayson.

Melina Marchetta is surely the queen of creating unforgettable characters all around. And her secondaries hold just as much weight as her primary characters. Multi-layered, fully fleshed, mysterious and magnetic characters like Froi, QuintanaTrevanion, Tesadora, Phaedra, Lirah, Gargarin and Lucian from The Lumatere Chronicles. And Thomas McKee, Tara Finke, and Jimmy Hailler from Saving Francesca and The Piper’s Son. Lastly, Santangelo from Jellicoe Road.

Another interesting factoid, when you break down my list of favorite secondaries by gender:

  • 34 are males
  • 15  are females

(Hmmm…that might be a topic for another post as well:)

There you have it! An examination of why I am, and will always be, in love with a well written secondary character, Epic Secondary Eclipse Phenomena” be damned;) So, who is you fave secondary? Who did I leave off my list that deserves a spot? I’ll take all the amazing secondaries recommendations you can throw my way!