Wednesday Writing: Secondary Characters

Learning to let secondary characters tell me their side of the story.

My current stage in the writing process: a second round of full-book edits before we head into copy editing. While the first round was mostly about plot and Habo’s development, this round, most of my editor’s comments focus on the lacking depth of my secondary characters.

My first, very mature, reaction was to say “Well, yes, of course they’re shallow! They’re secondary characters, dammit. One of them leaves by page 10! You expect me to deepen him?

However, once I had huffed and puffed a little, I realized the deep and abiding wisdom of my editor. No one you meet in real life sees themselves as a secondary character– everyone, no matter how boring, no matter how quickly they leave our story, is the main character of their own life. What I needed was to approach my story realizing that every character is not entering each scene asking themselves how they will interact with Habo. They’re too busy living their own priorities. To them, he is a secondary character.

So, here’s this week’s writing tip: give your secondary characters space to tell you about themselves. What I did? I hunted Google images, found faces that fit my vision of my characters, and then typed up a page or two, in first person, from each one of them where they talked about their life, hopes, and reactions to story events. Armed with these sheets, I’m wading in to my second revision, ready to let them be themselves.

Anyone else out there with any characterization tips? I’d love to hear them!

About Tara Sullivan

Author of GOLDEN BOY (2013), THE BITTER SIDE OF SWEET (2016), and TREASURE OF THE WORLD (2021). Published by Penguin Books for Young Readers Find out more at Or, follow me on Twitter: @SullivanStories
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6 Responses to Wednesday Writing: Secondary Characters

  1. Great attitude and solid advice. I’ll have to try that exercise.

  2. Thanks for the enthusiasm, guys!

  3. Thanks! It’s been quite a big mental challenge for me to implement but I’ve found it to be really helpful.

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