Monday, September 29, 2014

Crew No-Nos

Ten Things I Hate About Your Secondary Characters

Beyond BFFs: Instead of being normal mortals who are occasionally helpful, unavailable, supportive, jealous etc. the friends in your cast are capable only of being beyond best friends forever. These sterling souls are ever ready to drop everything and do absolutely anything to help your protagonist. This includes throwing themselves in the path of nightmarish monsters, committing serious felonies, driving off a cliff in a convertible and my person non-favorite, throwing an insanely expensive surprise birthday party that everyone the protag knows joyously attends on time -- with a table piled high with fabulous gifts, no less.

Bobble Heads: Every time this character shows up in a scene, it's strictly to inform the reader of something they don't know by informing the protagonist of something he already knows. Ala Alfred intoning "You know, my boy, if your parents hadn't been cruelly murdered in front of you in that dark alley, you would never have built the BatCave, took on the secret life of a caped crusader, or escaped your fate to become just another useless overindulged narcissistic jackass into whose food I regularly spit."

Born to be Dumb: I know you want your protagonist to be smart, and capable of solving complex problems, and eligible to join any chapter of Mensa including the one for Grand Master Chess Champions who kicked Bobby Fisher's ass in five moves on that Internet chess site, but does this mean you must give everyone else in the story the IQ of a carrot?

Closet Superduper Deviants: I'm still waiting to find out which of the nice people I know in real life are actually secret neo-Nazi skinheads who like to cut themselves, shoplift guns, blow up elementary school buses and have sex with the helpless farm animals they keep chained in their underground bunkers before they plan massive Federal Reserve robberies with their fascist helicopter-piloting ex-Army buds, how about you?

Lovely & Lifeless: Your secondary characters are all very attractive, super smart, fascinating people who form a powerful and protective satellite of WOW around your protagonist. Yet despite being the sort of people most desired by others, these exceptionally wonderful folks for some reason don't ever seem to have homes, families, relationships, jobs or any kind of life of their own.

Mom Stand-Ins: Odd that the nice lady who lives next door never drops by my house every other day to check on me, bring me food or sit down, have a cup of coffee and listen to all my problems before she tells me exactly how to fix them, kisses me on the forehead and goes home to prune her perfect roses. I should complain to the HOA.

Obvious Herrings: You keep telling me that these characters are up to no good, and definitely working against the protagonist, and yet they don't really appear to be doing anything for real but distracting me from the actual antagonist, whom I had already identified by Chapter Three.

Q&Aers: If the ratio of questions asked to statements made by your support character is more than three to one, then they really exist only to ask questions you believe the reader needs answers to from the protagonist. Or your editor made you delete that long-ass prologue, yes?

Red Shirts: Think of all the people you know in real life. Do two or three of them die pointlessly every week while you escape the same fate, but only by your teeth skin? Yeah, me neither.

Wrench Tossers: Here's the thing: People show up in our lives for more reasons than to expose a concealed injustice, report on an unlikely murder, rat out our love interest, be followed by someone who wants us dead, deliver a sword of unimaginable power, etc. Sometimes people just want to go get coffee and danish and hang out at Starbucks, you know?

Your turn -- got any gripes about secondary characters? Let us know in comments.


  1. While editing the Punch volume of Sherlock parodies, I came across a regular description of Watson as a "Charles, His Friend." It means a character (who appears in the program that way) whose sole function is to stand by and admire the hero.

    I can see this as the basis of a short story called "A Plague of Watsons," in which the hero is surrounded by all of these types, and completely unable to save the day.

  2. Do you know what always annoys me? How they always seems to have more money than sense and no bills to pay. They throw money around like its going out of fashion, when real life, especially mine, isn't like that. I can live with the BFFs, the BtoDs and the red shirts etc, but the money just bugs me rigid. I know the book can't be held up because the hero / heroine has to go to work and can't drop everything to fly off to ...... to save the day, but a teeny tiny bit of financial realism would be nice now and again.

  3. All these are very good points/

  4. You do know you described all my secondary characters, don't you?

  5. i agree with that you say "I can see this as the basis of a short story called "A Plague of Watsons," in which the hero is surrounded by all of these types, and completely unable to save the day"

  6. the sidekick with the connections to all the things the protag needs. Helicopter, chainsaw, zombie disposal unit, a commercial bakery, and a bank account that would put Bill Gates to shame. Like, he's got more resources than the UN. One call does it all with that guy. What's the story, if as Fran K says, they can just lob cash at the problem?

  7. The know-it-all BFF or sister or sidekick co-worker...whatever...who yammers on throughout most of the book about how the MC should be listening to her excellent (usually wrong) advice. It annoys me no end when this character just won't shut up or let the MC make her own decisions. Who's blasted story is this anyway?????

  8. I'd say you pretty well covered it, lol.
    The only other thing that kinda drives me nuts is please God save us from "The Scooby Gang". So the hero/heroine has a cause, a mission, whatever. Does that mean the secondary must pledge undying allegiance to the same? Can't they have ambitions of their own?


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