The last two “Top Ten Tuesday” posts I’ve written have gotten me thinking about secondary characters. When I wrote about characters I wanted with me on a deserted island, I realized that I was drawn most often to characters who are in a supporting role in novels, rather than the main characters. Why is that? What is it about secondary characters (or tertiary characters) that makes them so much more interested and fun?
Protagonists are so burdened. The weight of the world in on a main character’s shoulders and they are responsible for making all the life or death decisions required to move the plot forward. Secondary characters though? They don’t have that weight hanging over them; they have room to make jokes and lighten the mood. They are the comic release that breaks up the tension created by the main characters.
Let’s use something many people are familiar with as an example: the Harry Potter series. Harry is a great character; he’s well-developed, he grows and changes throughout the novels, he’s very likable. However, Harry is also very burdened. He literally has the fate of the wizarding world weighing on his conscience at all times, and it constantly affects his decisions and the way he lives his life.
But, then think about Ron. Ron could be considered a first or secondary characters, but for the sake of this article, we’ll call him secondary. Ron has a lot of responsibility too; he worries about his family constantly, and he is often tasked with helping Harry. But, Ron has much more freedom than Harry. Ron can date, he can crack jokes, he can play pranks — Harry is much too serious and conflicted to do these things. While I like Harry, and I appreciate him as a character, I ultimately like Ron better, and I would rather be friends with Ron (and hang out with him on a deserted island) than I would Harry.
Authors can have fun with the smaller characters in a novel. If we’re sticking with Harry Potter, think about all the smaller, less important characters that add comedy and fun to the series: Rita Skeeter, Dobby, Luna Lovegood, even Hagrid. It’s not just books, but movies and television shows as well. Jesse is more interesting than Walter White in Breaking Bad. Han Solo has more jokes than Luke Skywalker in Star Wars. The list can go on forever!
So, what do you think? What other secondary characters are more interesting, likable, or fun than the main character? (I like Robin more than Batman, Haymitch and Effie more than Katniss, Dill more than Scout…)