These same impressions apply to our fictional characters. We as the author may know exactly how our main characters are at their soul level, but we can't clearly demonstrate that to readers unless we've created a memorable cast of secondary characters.
The cast of your novel is very important. Not only do they support the main characters, but they interact with them to give us a sense of who they are outside of of the current plot. If a character has an awkward relationship with their siblings where they become nervous or the interactions become stilted or more relaxed, this portrayal adds a layer of characterization that is almost subliminal to the reader. The same goes with co-workers, new friends, or childhood buddies. How our main characters interact with their supporting cast helps the reader formulate a bigger picture of who they're dealing with--and if they are likable or not.
Secondary characters don't necessarily need their own storylines unless you plan on creating a sequel or unless it's relevant to a sub-plot. If the latter is the case, don't forget to tie up all the loose ends by the end of the story. Mostly, however, the supporting cast comes and goes, woven into the story to support the main character's agenda. When you've done it right, readers will most likely comment in reviews about how they wish so-and-so would have their own story one day or how so-and-so was such a bitch that they felt sorry for your main character. You get the idea. They will notice the interactions, the friendships, the dysfunction or the humor without it subtracting from your main character's identity; rather, a successful secondary character enhances the plot whenever they make an appearance in the story.
I wrote an important word in that last sentence--enhance. As with every word that makes it to the final cut of your novel, make sure that each secondary character has a purpose for being present in the story. There have been times when, upon revision, I've combined two secondary characters into one after realizing that it sped up the pace and created more impact. I've also killed off a few that no longer served a point mid-way through and their deaths not only helped me get back on track but also provided me with a great plot twist. No matter how much you may like the secondary character because they make you laugh or maybe because you simply enjoy writing him or her, if he or she isn't adding something useful to the story, then you need to reevaluate your manuscript as a whole.
No one exists in a void--not even a recluse who interacts only with his dog. The dog, in that example, is a secondary character. Their interactions would be vital clues to the reader about the inner workings of the recluse's mind--perhaps revealing longing or anger or self-pity or love.
This all goes into the show and tell aspects of writing. Interactions with others shows the reader what your character is like in his world.
Look at your manuscript. Who are the main characters' key relationships? Who makes up the supporting cast and are they all relevant to the plot? Do they drive your story or are they dead weight? Are there two that are fundamentally the same and can they be combined?
Each part of your book--from every word in every sentence to each cast member--must serve the plot and main character development. Doing this well not only delivers an excellent read, but it also leads to loyal readers who say things like, "I felt like I knew these people and hated to see it end. I can't wait for this author's next book!"
Amber Lea Easton
Amber Lea Easton is a multi-published author of nonfiction, thrillers, and romantic suspense. A professional editor and freelance journalist for nearly two decades, she created Mountain Moxie Publishing Services to assist authors in mastering the writing craft. Her memoir, Free Fall, is dedicated to spreading suicide awareness, has topped international best selling charts, and has been named by Dr. Prem as fourth on the "Ten Most Inspiring True Stories Everyone Must Read" list. Easton is also a speaker regarding parenting through trauma and suicide awareness. To discover more about Mountain Moxie Publishing Services, please go to http://www.moxiegirlwriting.com. For a list of all of Easton's books, articles and interviews, go to http://www.amberleaeaston.com.