How to Introduce Secondary Characters

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a-howardby Ana Howard

Good novels feature well-developed, sympathetic, and multi-dimensional characters. Not only is a fine protagonist essential, richly drawn secondary characters are needed as well. Many authors struggle with introducing secondary characters into their novels, and while there are no set “rules” these guidelines may help make sure that players new to the book are introduced well and that they read as distinctive and memorable.

1. If at all possible, write in new characters one at a time. Back-to-back introductions tend to be more confusing and make less impact. Even if you need to introduce more than one character in one scene, separate them as much as possible with action, dialogue, or internal dialogue. For example, let’s say you need a couple to enter your story at the same time. Focus on one of the characters first—perhaps one stands out more than the other and draws attention—and then move to the next character later. Contrast the new characters as much as possible.

2. Use action and/or dialogue to present new characters. Readers in the past would tolerate long descriptions of a character before he or she enters the story, but that’s no longer the case. Show the new character doing something or saying something. For example, make a new player stumble upon the scene, make a dramatic entrance, or interrupt a conversation. Save the backstory about that person for later, after the reader has formed a strong impression.

3. Write a vivid character description. Go beyond age, hair color, and eye color, and utilize creativity in your description. You may focus on one specific characteristic and use imagery and/or metaphor to make the character stand out more on the page. For example, you might zero in on a facial feature that stands out—jaw, mouth, or eyebrows, or you might focus on a mannerism—stance, gestures, or way of speaking. Liken the character to an animal, a landmark, a statue, a feeling, etc. That said, do not let a character’s description go on for long. Keep it short but vibrant.

4. Make the introduction of the character meaningful. Write it so that the new character impacts the story in some way. If he or she doesn’t change something, then there is no need for him or her to be a part of the novel. There should be a change of emotional value by the end of each scene, especially in those that introduce new players. For example, write it so that the protagonist or another character feels differently about what is happening, has happened, or is about to happen because of the new character coming into the story.

While these are not the only ideas for presenting new characters, keeping them in mind may help to assure that new players have impact and feel original. If you need more help, consider utilizing a professional editor for this and all the other aspects of your novel.


Ana Howard specializes in fiction and offers a unique editorial perspective as the author of several published books.

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