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How to Write Compelling Secondary Characters

This week I’ve received a comment about secondary characters, and more specifically, how many characters should support your protagonist? In truth, every story is individual; Game of Thrones notoriously has a large cast of characters, whilst The Martian focuses solely on the plight of the protagonist for the best part of the story.

Therefore the plot holds the key to such questions, a better question to consider would be; how can I create context for the MC struggles? What internal or external circumstances, characters or environment will best serve and/or antagonise my protagonist? How can you help develop your protagonists story arc?

Secondary characters can provide powerful purposes within our stories. They can help to advance the plot in ways the protagonist cannot. They create conflict that stymies the protagonists journey. They can help to deepen the theme through dialogue, backstory and actions. Whilst help to reveal elements of worldbuilding through their individual point of view.

Here is a guide of the types of characters who may accompany your protagonist on their journey.

The sidekick – This character can also be the protagonists friend, or family member. Whilst they accompany the hero on his quest, they may well hinder, create conflict, become their confidant and most importantly add an element of comedy or surprise, just like Ron Wesley in Harry Potter.

The Magicians - Margo Meme

The friend – The nurturing companion who is always available to lend a shoulder to cry on. They help the hero to realise their own path, to be there after conflicts to give them the strength to continue onwards. Hagrid from Harry Potter is a great example.

The mentor – The wise soul who gives council, hints at vital clues whilst offering training and experience to the young apprentice. Remember not to make the story too easy, your mentor should lead the protagonist to the answers without actually telling him how to solve the problems.

The love interest – Create romance and tension within the story by adding an element of romance. It stirs internal conflict driving your protagonist to explore new emotions.  You could raise the stakes by forcing your protagonist to sacrifice something in order to save them. Or if romance is not central to your plot, maybe their love interest is merely a way to round out your character, a way to introduce their backstory and reveal another side to their personality.

The Magicians - Alice Meme

The healer – When your character gets injured, or faces a time of great healing, they will require someone who can aid them. This type of character helps the protagonist recover and strengthen up before they move on with their journey. This flexible character will add a fresh dimension to the story as your protagonist fights to overcome their injury/ illness.

The Herold – This character will call the protagonist into action, starting them on their journey. They give instructions in the beginning, like Gandalf who sets Bilbo Baggins off in The Hobbit. Often the protagonists ignores, rebels, or simply persists the call to action until they’re forced to act.

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The antagonist – Unlike all of the influencer characters the antagonists purpose is to create conflict, to prevent your protagonist from reaching his goals, to stay one step ahead until the climax of the story. Ultimately allowing the protagonist to grow, to improve, to reach a point where they can defeat or overcome the antagonist. They may take form as the bully, the irate boss, the murder your trying to track, or the power crazy queen who needs to be usurp.

The family – Families come in all forms, some supportive and others abusive. Inside each family the dynamic will vary depending on the types of characters involved. You may encounter the herald, the friend, the side kick, the antagonist and a love interest all within one family. We see such dynamic interactions in Hunger games when Katniss sacrifices herself to save her sister.

Author Lorraine Ambers - fantasy romance writer

Have fun, get creative and play around with these side characters as a way to introduce conflict, obstacles, tension, support and stability.

Tell me, how many characters does your WIP have? And apart from your protagonist, who is your favourite and why? Don’t be shy, share your ideas, you know I love hearing from you.

Thanks for stopping by, until next time, Much Love.

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© Author Lorraine Ambers and http://www.lorraineambers.com, 2019.

Differences between chapters and scenes

Chapters and scenes play different roles in a novel, and you’d be forgiven if you believed the two were one and the same. But they’re not! Whereas chapters are obvious in a novel, scenes are subtle structural parts. In this weeks post, we’re going to break down the functional elements of scenes and delve into the creative aspects of chapters.

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Chapters are creative decisions put in place to develop pacing, and while they seem to hold an air of structure, really they serve to capture the reader’s intrigue and hook them into your story. This isn’t just employed at the beginning of your Novel but is continuously done at the start and finish of each chapter, to entice your reader to finish one more chapter, then another, until finally, they’ve invested in the story as a whole. For more tips on this read: How To Hook A Reader_from the first sentence.

Novels can be written with as little, or as many chapters as you desire. Long chapters give a sense of leisurely pace, while shorter chapters ramp up the tension. They can even merely contain a single sentence. While some novels break each chapter into a new POV, this is also entirely up to the writer.

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Scenes are made up of structural bones, containing the goal, conflict and subsequent disaster. Followed by the sequel; reaction, dilemma, and decision.

If your new to these concepts read these post, Four Ways To Structure Your Novel and How To Plan Your Protagonist’s Journey, where I explain them more fully.

Each scene is a domino. When set up correctly, scenes create a seamless line of cause and effect that almost effortlessly powers your entire plot.

  • K.M. Weiland

How you fit chapters and scenes into your novel is entirely up to you. A chapter can encompass a full scene, but it does not have to. Once you understand the differences between the two, you can develop the pacing, its hooks, and twists around the structure of the scenes. This may well depend on the needs of your story and the goals of your characters. Maybe you choose to divide the elements of a scene over many chapters.

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While the cycle of chapter breaks reveals the flow of the novel, scene breaks reveal shifts within the story. There are hard and soft breaks to help define those elements.

Hard Breaks: These are usually highlighted by two lines between paragraphs. Alternatively, in a manuscript, it will be represented by a hashtag. But in novels, you may well find a symbol, three asterisks or a long-dash in the centre of the page. These indicate one of the following: A shift in character POV, a large jump in time such as flashbacks, or the introduction of a new setting or scene.

Soft Breaks: These indicate a smaller shift and can be a subtle pacing tool, represented by one space between paragraphs. They are minor shifts in settings or time, and where the scene is continuous with its flow. E.g. the characters move to another setting whilst continuing their conversation.

If you’re confused by the whole confounded mess of scenes vs chapters, my advice is to play around and trust your instinct, you’re probably already on the right track. But mastering a new technique only serves to strengthen your craft. This is the joy of being an artist!

Author Lorraine Ambers - fantasy romance writer

How do you use chapters and scenes? Together, or do you like to mix things up? Maybe you’ve never considered it much and prefer to let instinct and creativity rule? Either way, why don’t you share your thoughts, you know I love hearing from you.

Thanks for stopping by. Until next time, Much Love.

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© Author Lorraine Ambers and http://www.lorraineambers.com, 2019.

Lorraine Ambers writer and daydream queen - OnToplist.com    Creative Writing Blog Directory

Four Ways to Structure a Novel

Every writer has a different process, a different way of creating, and every story is unique in the way it’s told. What all of them have in common are basic structure rules. In this post we’re going to explore four different types of plotting a story structure; it’s then up to you how you use them.

To develop any of these structures it’s important to remember to advance each scene so that the plot and/or character are moving in a forward momentum. You can do this by asking these questions of every scene and/or chapter: How? Who? What? Where? When? And Why? Some other things to consider are what is the Inciting Incident, what kick starts your story? Take a look at one of my earlier posts How to Plan Your Protagonists Journey, where I go into detail about stakes, conflict and their awakening moment.

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The Three Act Structure.

The first act is the setup. It’s roughly a quarter of your novel and reveals the Protagonist in his usual setting, followed by the Inciting Incident, the catalyst that starts everything off and raises the stakes.

The second act is all about confrontation. Taking up fifty percent of your story, the protagonist faces obstacles that raise the tension, promotes the character to challenge himself and his beliefs, pushing them towards their goal. The obstacles will continue to build up until the Climax of Act Two.

The final act is all about resolution. The last quarter of the story will contain the Final Climax. Then the action will begin to descend, obstacles will be overcome leading to the Denouement.


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The Hero’s Journey.

Through this method also known as, the monomyth, the writer plots the protagonist’s path through nine stages, starting in their homeland, venturing out with guidance, facing difficulties, until they win a victory and return home. In this method, the writer employs The Full Circle Ending, which we covered in last weeks post: Six Superb Ways to End a Novel

Introduction to the hero’s world
Call to action
Crossing the threshold
Meet the Mentor
First challenge
Temptation
Dark inner moment
Final battle
Return home

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The Mirror Structure.

This method divides the story in two, the first half consists ever increasing obstacles for the protagonist. And the second half revisits them in reverse order, bringing resolution to the conflicts. Ultimately ending, once again, back where the protagonist originally started.

The complexity of this divide is left entirely up to the writer. Do they set each problem in a different setting, or with a different antagonist for a dramatic flare? Or keep it subtle, only working the conflict and resolutions?

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The Goal to Decision Cycle.

This method can either be used to develop your character arc, or it can be applied to the plotting process. It’s a flexible way to create structure.

Part 1: The cycle begins.

At the beginning of a scene, your character will have a goal they want to achieve.

The conflict will be introduced as an obstacle preventing your character from achieving their goal. Thus they will be faced with an opportunity to grow and develop or they’ll be called to an action.

The outcome will, unfortunately, result in failure. Disaster strikes despite their best efforts.

Part 2: Leading to reaction/ lessons.

The character reacts emotionally, promoting personal growth.

The dilemma is based on what action they should take next. They’ve learned from their failures and they grasp the opportunity to do better next time.

Once they’ve made a decision, the character is then provided with either a new goal or takes new steps in order to achieve their goal.

This whole cycle then starts again, over and over, until the character has arrived at the end of their story.

Author Lorraine Ambers YA fantasy romance

Some writers outline every detail of their novel: The Plotters. Others take a concept and begin moulding the story as it grows around the lives of their characters: The Pansters. And finally, there are the type of writers who like to take the middle road, roughly sketching a structure and leaving the rest to their imagination: The Plansters.

Which type of writer are you? And what methods do you use to structure your novels? Please share your comments, you know I love hearing from you.

Thanks for stopping by. Until next time, Much Love.

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© Author Lorraine Ambers and http://www.lorraineambers.com, 2019.