Friday 30 July 2010

Nell Dixon's Talk on Believable Secondary Characters

Sorry for taking an age to finally post about the second talk I attended at RNA Conference several weeks ago. This is mainly due to so much activity with family visits, school holidays, and editing.

The second talk I attended was given by Nell Dixon. I've read Nell's Little Black Dress books and reviewed a couple of them for Novelicious, and I have to say how much I loved them. So, when I saw she was giving a talk on creating believable secondary characters - she is brilliant at this - I knew I had to go.

The lovely Liz Fenwick introduced Nell, who told us that secondary characters depend on the type of book, ie Mills & Boon, sagas, and many more, regarding the subplots. The Secondary Character has to have their own arc, whereas minor characters don't contribute to the main story, ie think of a minor character like an extra in a film, where they make an appearance, but don't have their own story arc.

Secondary characters mustn't be given too big a role, and can be different in each novel, ie they can be a mentor, the comic relief, or the catalyst for some of the action, ie the best friend, who encourages the heroine to make a decision she doesn't really want to make. They can also be the competition, ie the heroine's competition.

Nell went on to tell us how they don't even have to be human. The Secondary Character could be a pet, a setting, or an inanimate object.

Do make sure the Secondary Characer does what you want them to do and that you need them to forward the plot in some way, but don't forget to make it believable and to have their own storyline that feeds into the main storyline. Make sure they earn their place in the book and that they complete their own story arc. Although remember not to let them take over from main characters, or be stereotypes.

I'm sure there was so much more in the talk, but I've recently had to clear out the shed (needed one of the tables for a party) and so have had to take this from the notes that I've managed to find from the Conference. Naturally, any mistakes are my own, and going by the confusion in my brain right now, mainly thanks to an endless stream of washing - just call me The Launderess - and my irons (yes, there are two) tripping the electrics when I try and use them, I'm slowly, very slowly, catching up with all I should be doing.

All in all, Nell's excellent talk showed me how very important secondary characters are, and also how easy it is to confuse a minor character with a secondary character.


Chris Stovell said...

Stoic service to writing,Debs, in the face of so much laundery!

Deborah Carr (Debs) said...

LOL, thanks Chris. I don't know where it's all coming from. I've just put in another load and am going to stay hidden in the shed for a couple of hours.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post. Thanks.

All the best, Boonsong

Unknown said...

It was a brilliant Debs - thanks for the refresh.


Nell Dixon said...

Hope the talk was useful, Debs

Deborah Carr (Debs) said...

boonsong - thank you.

liz - my pleasure. It was such an interesting talk.

nell - it was very useful, thank you. I learned so much from you that day.

HelenMWalters said...

Sounds very interesting and that's a good point about distinguishing between secondary characters and minor characters.

Faye said...

Good point that a non-person could be a secondary character. I'm thinking of novels that had dogs--or other animals like Jon Katz's farm animals--in this role. Probably easier for the writer to make them behave. :-)

Sounds like you're having a very good, but busy, summer Debs. Enjoy.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like you had a great time there and learnt a lot! A busy summer for you aswell then? Roll on Sept:) I really enjoyed Bret Easton Ellis talk at Guardian Book Club:)

Unknown said...

A great post and I'm sure it was an excellent talk. I love Nell's books, too.

Btw, there's a prize waiting for you over at mine. :)

Susie Vereker said...

Thanks, Debs, this was one of the talks I missed so it's good to read a report. Btw, I bought a new iron the other day and was amazed how much better it is than my old dud ones.

Deborah Carr (Debs) said...

helen - it was very useful and pointed out so many things I hadn't considered in such depth before.

faye - it was very interesting.

Thanks, I'm having an excellent summer and even the weather is behaving, so far. Long may it last.

shirley - thanks, I'm glad you enjoyed it.

So excited about the prize, I'm off to your blog now. Thank you.

susie - glad you enjoyed it. It's hard fitting in all the talks you want to attend, so I find the reports very useful.

I really need a new iron. It's next on my To Do list.

Leigh Russell said...

Interesting point about secondary characters and minor characters. I was talking to a group of readers in a library recently and we somehow got onto the subject of how to base a crime plot around ironing - just as a joke. The next day I saw a news article about a man who held his own mother hostage at knife point because she refuesed to iron his shirts... ! I sent the article to the librarian to show the book group. Truth stranger than fiction!

Suzanne Brandyn Author said...

You made me stop and think about my characters in my current wip, Deb. I'll have to double check that. Great post and enjoyable.

Suzanne :)

Phillipa said...

Thanks for sharing Nell''s talk, Debs - I was dying to hear all about it. P x

Flowerpot said...

Very good Debs. Though am still stunned that you have TWO irons.....

Sarah Callejo said...

I was there and also thought it was a great talk, but it's good to have a reminder of it. Thanks.

Lola Sharp said...

Thanks for sharing your notes. :)


Deborah Carr (Debs) said...

leigh - they say truth is stranger than fiction, don't they? I love this.

suzanne - thanks. Posting this made me think a little too, as I'm editing at the moment.

phillipa - it was an excellent talk and so useful too.

flowerpot - thanks. I only have two irons because one was starting to act up a little.

sarah - the talk was good, wasn't it? Thanks.

lola - my pleasure.