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Coming Up with Antagonists for Your Novel

Last week we took a brief look at secondary characters who play a supporting role in your novel—who help bring out the good qualities and personality of your protagonist. It’s common to find two or three unique characters who are allies to your hero.

But, of course, conflict is key in a novel, and you need opposition. That can come in the form of one specific antagonist or nemesis character. But it can also be a group or society or the system. If your novel is about man vs. nature, your opposition might be a tornado or an earthquake.

Regardless of your plot and type of opposition, unless your story is about a person isolated from others, you will need a supporting cast. And that usually includes antagonists.

I gave some passage examples last week from my Western novel Colorado Dream (I write under the pen name Charlene Whitman for that series). We looked at two characters who provide humor and support for my protagonist, Brett.

Here’s a moment with my two secondary antagonists—the cowboys sent to kill Brett. You’ll notice I give Phineas, who doesn’t have a large role in my story, a lot of inner conflict. This sets him up to switch sides in the climax. I left out some paragraphs to trim this down for you. Continue Reading…

The Importance of Secondary Characters in Your Novel

Creating a cast of characters is a challenge for novelists. It’s a balance. You need just the right number of characters in just the right roles, and if you have too many, it’s clutter. Too few and your story is narrow and skimpy, possibly not reflecting real life. A protagonist that has no friends, doesn’t engage with coworkers, never talks to family, and doesn’t really go anywhere other than one or two locales (home, coffee shop, office) isn’t a believable character.

This is where secondary characters come into play. They require just as much forethought in their creation as primary characters.

Secondary characters are important to your story but don’t hold as major a role in your story as primary ones.

Don’t get too tied in knots over categorizing every character. The boundary line between primary and secondary characters is blurry. It’s not uncommon to see secondary and even incidental characters have POV scenes—it depends on the story.

For instance, the opening of a mystery might be in an unnamed killer’s POV for just that one scene. In a sense, you might think of that killer as an incidental character if there are few, if any, moments with that character. The novel might be entirely about the investigation, and maybe the killer is found dead himself by the climax of the novel. Continue Reading…

Crafting Characters That Are Essential to Your Plot

There is a simple method for determining if you have enough characters in your novel or if you have too many. And that’s by scrutinizing each character in relation to your plot.

For example, in the movie Dragonfly, Joe Darrow, a doctor who lost his wife, has a next-door neighbor, Miriam, a woman who is a lawyer and who lost a child in death. She is a friend and ally who is also a voice of reason and encouragement to Joe. She presses him to go on a rafting trip, to sell his house, to get help when he’s losing it. She proverbially holds his hand and supports him when no one else will. No other character in the movie has that role or can take it on.

The story needs her character. Joe needs her. Because, without her, he would not follow the clues that lead him to where he must go to get the answers he needs about his wife’s death. Her presence not only reflects the kind of person that might normally be found in real life, it also is used to move the plot forward. If all Miriam did in the movie was wave hi and look sad every time she saw Joe, her appearance in the story would be filler and useless. Pay attention to that.

If three characters served basically the same role as Miriam, that would clutter the story—hence why experienced authors suggest rolling multiple characters with redundant or overlapping roles into one character. Continue Reading…

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