Unseen Characters

This week the Four Foxes and the Hound are discussing their secondary characters….that leaves me a little sort this time.

Most of my published work has been non-fiction and poetry. My only real award came for song lyrics. However, I have a few of works done and a number are perking, so I do have a few things to say.

One of my works is a short story where you only hear about secondary characters. In another, my biggest finished piece of fiction, is a play that I am turning into readable form and you also never ‘see’ any secondary characters. It could be done as a three-person play or short film.

In my others, including my children’s stories, you may not see the secondary characters much, but I see them in my mind and try to give them all the attention that they are due. In one children’s story, they added so much more than I anticipated, they enlarged the story. Sometimes, secondary characters are simply in and out of the story, but their presence in necessary to the story, often  to add something to convey it along.

My biggest unfinished undertaking is a romance novel that I have really neglected. It probably has too many secondary characters, but I like them. I have them fully developed in my head I and try to let the reader understand as much about them as I can, while keeping the description of them down to a minimum. Backstories sometimes come out a bit, but in some cases more information is opened up as the story unfolds. And one unseen character plays an important role in that story, too.

I know there will be a lot of editing at the end. In fact, one set of four characters refused to co-operate to let me make their story into a subplot. Perhaps their story will be part of another work, but I don’t know. Another set of characters took a great deal more of time than I anticipated and one set actually invited themselves to lunch with my main characters and took off with the husband for an afternoon of sigh-seeing. Little did I know that they were giving me a perfect opening to one of the situations that I needed for my story to work.

I think the number of secondary characters depend on the story and their placement within the work; there is no set answer as to how many are too many and/or if they are needed at all. Making them as human as possible and fleshing them out with as few words as you can will certainly enhance a story. And sometimes, secondary characters run off with the work.

If you write, do you have ‘off-stage’ characters in your stories? Do your characters cooperate all the time with your plans for them?


About Tonette Joyce

Tonette was a once-fledgling lyricists-bookkeeper, turned cook/baker/restaurateur and is now exploring different writing venues,(with a stage play recently completed). She has had poetry and nonfiction articles published in the last few years. Tonette has been married to her only serious boyfriend for more than thirty years and she is, as one person described her, family-oriented almost to a fault. Never mind how others have described her, she is,(shall we say), a sometime traditionalist of eclectic tastes.She has another blog : "Tonette Joyce:Food,Friends,Family" here at WordPress.She and guests share tips and recipes for easy entertaining and helps people to be ready for almost anything.
This entry was posted in authors, Books, characters, poetry, publishing, romance, Secondary Characters, Tonette Joyce, writing. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Unseen Characters

  1. jeff7salter says:

    Absolutely — even characters with no “stage time” can be vital to a story. They can be reasons for what the primary on-stage characters are feeling, thinking, or doing. Or, in some stories, the fear/dread of some off-stage character can be a way of building suspense.
    As you also seem to, I love it when “minor” characters are insistent on more stage time or larger scenes. And yes, when you occasionally turn over the reins, you can find your story moving in creative ways the rational mind may never have imagined.
    [That’s another huge advantage of “sprinting”, by the way — you’re turning off the internal editor and letting the characters made decisions for you.]
    Very nice column today.


    • Thank you,Jeff. No one seemed to address unseen characters this week and I had no intention of writing about them specifically…I winged it and they came out!
      I appreciate your praise as I really thought I’d be weak this week.


    • jeff7salter says:

      but it must have been in my comments on somebody else’s blog this week. because I didn’t find it in my own blog yesterday


  2. Patricia Kiyono says:

    Unseen characters can really have a major effect on the storyline. Sometimes the unseen characters isn’t human – for example, the economy was a driving force in my story that took place during the depression era, and the weather is a strong presence in my Christmas 2011 story. I hope to be able to read your romance soon!


    • Excellent point about unseen FORCES being integral to a story and,I suppose, how we may portray those in our stories is important. You have given us more food for thought there, Patty!


      • jeff7salter says:

        In one of my novels, the terrific lightning and thunderstorm serves more than a setting — it nearly becomes a character in the tense fight scene near the end.


  3. Unseen characters can be vitally important to the story.


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