Monday, November 30, 2015

A cast of characters

Many characters wander in and out of our stories. Do you have any favorites?

by Meredith Cole

I'm a firm believer that your favorite person in the story should be the your main character. There's nothing worse than reading a book with a bland main character that the author seems to despise, based on the speed in which they try to shove them off stage and get back to the far more interesting secondary characters.

Don't get me wrong. Secondary characters can and should be be a lot of fun. They don't have to carry the weight of the story, so they're free to be wacky and odd. You can take risks with them. Try out new voices. Give them quirks that would become extremely annoying if you had to spend the whole book with them--but are very entertaining for 20 or so pages.

I had a lot of fun inventing odd characters in my first two books, POSED FOR MURDER and DEAD IN THE WATER. Since both books were set in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, which is both a wacky hipster neighborhood plus a neighborhood filled with Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Hasidic Jews, Italians, and Poles, I could populate the books with a diverse and interesting cast. Actually, I had to.

Three of my favorite characters from the books were the D'Angelo brothers (my sleuth Lydia's private eye bosses) and their mother, Mama, who owned an Italian restaurant. Their characters and voices were so clear in my head that they were actually relaxing and fun to write. They both help and hindered Lydia as she attempted to solve crimes, and they always made a scene both fun and full of conflict.

But with the D'Angelo brothers (as well as any of the other eccentric characters in my books), I knew that I couldn't lose sight of the fact that they were being observed through the eyes of my main character. They had to serve the story and add to it--not just be a distraction. And in the end that's what made them work.


  1. Good point about secondary characters Meredith, when you say should serve the story, but not be a distraction to it. They can be fun, but the main character needs to carry the plot.

  2. I LOVED mama! True, the main character is, uh...the main character, but secondary characters give the protag time to come up for air. They can also do and say things you want, but don't want protag to say or do. I'm reminded of Fearless Jones in Walter Mosley's Easy Rawlins books. But a lot of him might be too much. (Although WM didn't think so and gave him his own series.) Great post!

  3. Thanks Paul! And thanks for stopping in Rosemary! Writing about the D'Angelo's made me think about writing a short story... from their point of view. Wouldn't that be fun?

  4. Your excellent post made me think of Rosenkrantz and Gildenstern, and Tom Stoppard's device of putting them at the center of Hamlet. Delightful twist!


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