My friends and I wrote on forum RPGs all through high school and college, and one running joke was my addiction to making new characters. It wasn’t unusual for me to have at least ten characters per site, sometimes on two or three sites at the same time. I would routinely kill off characters so I could make new ones. It worked out well for a lot of our plots, because we were not nice to our characters and pretty much always needed cannon fodder.

I love creating characters and coming up with backstories. More than anything, I love weaving character histories together and creating these complex six-degrees-of-separation webs. I wrote about using that technique to round out characterization in your manuscript over on the Bear and Black Dog blog.

One by-product of delving into every character this way, is of course, that you get super attached to them. Well, maybe that’s just me. But I still pine for some of those RPG characters because damnit, they were really awesome and I loved writing them.

When I started prepping I See the Web for its debut tomorrow, I got to thinking about how much more time I wanted to spend with these characters. Not in the sense that I wanted to add more to the story–Erin’s story has to go the way it goes, trust me. But she has this big brother, Morgan, who is an incredibly deep character in his own right and we only get a glimpse of him in this story.

So of course, reading through it again, my mind started churning with spin-off possibilities.

I’m so pleased that more and more speculative fiction authors, like Veronica Roth and Mindee Arnett, are producing bonus content like short stories that focus on other characters and/or other aspects of these wonderful worlds they create, because let’s be real. Spec fic writers often create a ton of stuff that never makes it into the main series. We also tend to have huge casts of characters who don’t get a lot of screen time.

Good characterization means, among other things, always knowing what motivates a character to do whatever they do. One trick for doing that is to always think of any character as the protagonist of their own story. Yeah, you might not be writing it at that particular moment in time–but their story is still there. It might not be enough for a novel, like in Erin’s case, but don’t let that hold you back! Give in to the power of the short story and let all your characters shine.

In the comments:

How do you feel about short stories? Do you read them? Would you read them? If you’re a writer, do you wish you could spend more time with your secondary characters?

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3 thoughts on “Short Stories and Secondary Characters

  1. I love short stories, particular ones that feature my favorite character or are backstories to previous novels that I have read. I find that these stories give more depth to the main and side characters overall story. As a reader, you often wish that an author would provide more details about certain characters or why things are left off the way they were in the editing process (if you understand my meaning). Secondary characters, to me, enhances the overall view or personality of the main character.

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