“Treat your secondary characters like they think the book’s about them.” ~Jocelyn Hughes
For a writer, this is fracking invaluable advice.
Let’s think about ourselves. Life is all about us. We’re number one. I’m the main character in my life as a novel. But there are very few people in the world where you are even in the top ten. For me, I can count them on two hands, and that’s because I have a big immediate family. I love these people, and I know if there was a novel about their lives, I’d be a pretty big secondary character. I’m the big sister, the awesome wife, the maid-of-honor.
Everyone else? People may like me, they may enjoy hanging out with me, I might be an interesting person at parties. I may have helped get them a job. We run in the same social networks or share a family tree, so we see each other on the weekends or at family functions. I may make it in their top fifty. Or top one hundred. In their novel, I’m a minor character. I show up in scenes where all their friends get together, or when the main character needs a creative friend who writes books. I’m an archetype: the writer or the girl with Rheumatoid Arthritis. I fulfill a role.
But for others, I’m barely a blip on their radar. They know my name, my face, or more likely, they know my parents or the rest of my family. We may have added each other on Facebook, but only because we hung out that one camp, or because we keep seeing each other around town and feel like it just makes sense. If I show up in their novels at all, I probably don’t even get a name. I’m the girl on the bus or the volunteer at the day shelter or the person they help at the river.
And of course, there are those who see me once and then never again. People I see once a week, but can never remember my name. They know nothing about me, about my life, about what makes me tick, about what I want in my life. In their lives, I don’t show up at all. In their novels, I’m nonexistent.
It’s funny, because I want to be number one. Maybe not with everyone, but with some of the people in that second circle — the ones I want to hang out with more, but our schedules never line up. The people I see all the time, but have never really taken the time to get to know. The ones I call family but only see every couple years — I want to be number one. I may not be looking for another best friend, but I want them to think about me and put me in their top ten even if I don’t put them in my top ten. It’s a ridiculous notion, a ridiculous expectation, but that’s that I want. It’s all about me, don’t you people get it? This is my novel. I’m the main character. These are my struggles, my storyline, my plot. You are supposed to cater to me.
There are seven billion people in the world, and we all think that. We may not all be as self-centered as I am, but we are the main characters in our own novels. But in everyone else’s minds, we’re the sidekicks, the archetypes, the minor characters, the unnamed, the nonexistent. It’s humbling to think of that, to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and realize, ‘I’m small, and sometimes I’m nothing.’
Emily Ann Ward is the author of Finding Fiona, Le Garde series, and The Protectors series. One of her first stories featured a young girl whose doll came to life. The rest is history. When it comes to fiction, she writes mainly young adult, contemporary, and fantasy. She also writes nonfiction, ranging from stories of her travels to thoughts on the Bible. Aside from writing, she loves traveling and she’s a content editor with Entranced Publishing. Currently, she lives in Oregon with her husband Chris and their cats. Visit her website at http://emilyannward.com