Secondary Characters

Activity Being Avoided: laundry
Music In My Head: I Can See Clearly – Johnny Nash
Tea Being Drunk: wildberry
Books Being Read: The Virgin Cure – Amy McKay, Inside Memory – Timothy Findley (re-reading)

Have been ordered to write a blog. (I have such nice friends: I assume he thinks my writing is good if he feels compelled to order me to write.) As it’s exam time, there isn’t much work, and the only student I had for this evening had to cancel. Now I have a lot of free time. I could use the time to catch up on book-keeping or get a head start on my taxes, but then I wouldn’t be a very good writer, would I? Avoiding math is surely an inherent part of being a writer.

Of course, having just come off several weeks of living in a whirlwind, there’s not much in my head. Or, if it’s in my head, it’s mouldering somewhere around the brain stem rather than floating to the top. My friend might regret demanding a blog at this time. What’s been in my head for the last week? Secondary characters.

Yes. I think about secondary characters for a whole week.

My father got me hooked on secondary characters. I must have been about 12 or 13 years old, and we’d been watching Fame (the TV programme, not the movie). Sister #2 and I had been talking about how cool Bruno and Doris were, when Dad piped up and pointed out that the main characters wouldn’t be so great if it weren’t for Mr. Shorofsky. My sister dismissed him – the character looked a lot like my father, so she probably figured Dad was just putting in a plug for furry, white-haired dudes – but Dad’s point stuck in my head. Mr. Shorofsky was pretty awesome. I realised that if he didn’t play the straight man, none of the other characters would be funny. And when Mr. Shorofsky did make a joke, it was dry and so quick that you’d almost miss it. The joke was so funny that it would still make you snicker a couple of hours later.

Actually, as far as I can remember, this is the first time I clearly understood how a rhetorical device was used. Mr. Shorofsky was responsible for me becoming an English major.

I love secondary characters. I know that story-telling depends on having particularly wonderful main characters (life would be worth nothing if we got rid of, say, Timothy Findley’s Minna and Bragg, or the Bronte sisters’ Heathcliff and Rochester), but stories that have absolutely extraordinary secondary characters are so full and juicy that you have to read them again. And again. And once more, just to make sure there’s not a drop left. And then you always manage to find another drop. Where would Abigail be without Tituba to blame everything on, or Lata without the juxtaposed level-headedness of Kedarnath? I couldn’t suffer through another pubescent discussion of Twilight without knowing that Jasper was waiting there… waiting to be set free into a proper character, but that’s a matter I’ll take up with Ms. Meyers another time.

In fact, I love secondary characters so much that I made them the story tellers for Holland and Jaime.   Main secondary characters. You may as well bring the best things right to the front of the display window, where everyone can see them.

Now that my children are getting horrifically close to leaving home, and the cats have all died, I’m paying more attention to the secondary characters in real life. It was a secondary character who demanded this blog; that particular secondary character has been around for a very long time and is one of the more supportive people when it comes to my writing. Secondary characters provide me with entertainment, and they furnish me with my entire income. They say hello to me and ask about my kids when we pass on the street, and they tell me they have books waiting for me behind the counter. They fix my stove when it’s broken.

I get very upset when a main character leaves my life for one reason or another, but I survive it. I couldn’t survive without the secondary characters. They’re my safety net beneath reality. When one drops out, there’s a hole that threatens the integrity of the net. It’s more important that a secondary character be replaced than a main character.

I’m working on a story now where the best secondary character isn’t in the story. As a secondary character, she’s only a reference, a memory. I love her: she might be one of my best characters ever… next to the ones in Holland and Jaime, of course. (I have devout loyalty towards all of my characters, but there is a chronological hierarchy.) The story is almost ready to be workshopped, but I need to make sure that everyone will think she’s as wonderful as I know her to be. It’s okay if they want me to make changes to the main characters, but this one secondary character is off limits.

Now I just need a secondary character to come do my laundry and dishes, and maybe one to do my taxes, too. While they’re my safety net, secondary characters don’t entirely shield me from reality.

One response to “Secondary Characters

  1. You are a wise old woman. Those secondary characters become more important as you age. If one is unaware, it takes the loss of that character to bring realization of their importance.


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