Guest blogger: Elizabeth Ellen Carter
One of the wonderful things about novels is being immersed in a world that feels so vividly real that you can almost breathe the same air as the characters. Another joy is when an author brings to life characters so authentic you feel like you actually know them.
In the case of romance it’s not just the hero and heroine—if we don’t fall in love with them, then we don’t have much of a story, of course—but what about the secondary characters, the ones who have personalities of their own—the friend, the foil, the foe? Without whom the story would be, ahem, rather two dimensional.
For my money, if there was no Melanie Wilkes to provide a contrast for Scarlett O’Hara, Gone with the Wind would not be anywhere near as interesting.
Not long after I signed the contract for my first historical romance, a Regency called Moonstone Obsession, I listened to a very interesting presentation by one of Australia’s wonderful romance-thriller writers Helene Young who said that she wrestled with one of her secondary characters in Wings of Fear.
This secondary character had such a strong and distinct personality that Helene feared that she may overwhelm the heroine, so there was only one thing for Helene to do—give the woman her own story, which turned out to be the 2011 ARRA award-winning romantic suspense, Shattered Sky.
I had cause to wonder about the subject of secondary characters just last month following a review of my second historical romance, a medieval called Warrior’s Surrender. One reviewer on Amazon wanted to know more about Gaines, the man-at-arms to our hero, and a character who has a hostile relationship with the heroine. To be honest, I hadn’t considered giving him his own story, but you never know, if one reader is interested to know more about this man, perhaps other people will too.
In Moonstone Obsession the decision to give one of the supporting characters a story of her own was a little easier to make. Like Helene, I felt quite attached to Lady Abigail Houghall and knew there was something more to explore with her. That was reinforced by my darling husband who is my proofreader and one of my editors. He absolutely insisted in Lady Abigail having her own story and firm ideas on what that should be! Even my own goddaughter said Lady Abigail was her favourite character because she was a bit of a ‘mean girl’ who had some great dialogue.
Needless to say, Lady Abigail has got her own story. Moonstone Conspiracy will be coming out this year.
Secondary characters do play a very important role in advancing the story—we even acknowledge them in the Oscars. So what is it about these ‘best supporting characters’ that we love so much?
I think it is the role they play—either as friends, foes and foils.
Friends—most often supporting characters are best friends of our hero and heroine and who doesn’t love our best friends! They are there to pick up the pieces when things don’t go to plan, offer a word of timely advice that affects our hero’s and heroine’s decisions and perhaps break the tension with a bit of humour. And yet there are other times when you wonder what our hero or heroine ever see in their best friends—Gah! Is it wrong to actually want to slap some sense into some of these secondary characters?
Foes—ranging from the downright villain to the infuriating ‘frenemy’, these characters make a romance so much fun to read. Sometimes they can be truly ‘boo, hiss’ worthy, other times there is a spark in their personality that makes their unhelpful actions understandable and—gosh, darn it—quite sympathetic too.
Foils—They’re not quite friends and not quite enemies and yet they don’t have a mutually adversarial relationship like frenemies either. Melanie Wilkes from Gone with the Wind is the example that comes most readily to mind. She is oblivious of Scarlett’s dislike of her and lives her own life. When a foil’s life intersects with that of the heroine or hero, it is almost like they are at cross purposes. If they frustrate our protagonists, it is completely coincidental and without malice.
I’d love to hear from you. How do you feel about secondary characters? Do you like the idea of secondary characters becoming heroes and heroines in their own right? What type of secondary characters do you like to see—friends, foes, foils—or all three?
For Sir James Mitchell, Lord of Penventen, it was a toss of a coin between which was more dangerous – being a spy or being considered husband material by the Ladies of the Ton.
With high stakes political machinations threatening to draw England into the violent wake of the French Revolution, the last thing James expected was to fall in love with Selina Rosewall, daughter of an untitled seafaring family.
From the privileged world of London society and the wild, dangerous beauty of the Cornish coast to the seething heart of revolutionary Paris, James reluctantly draws Selina deeper in a world of secrets, lies and scandals that threaten England itself.