April 2, 2012

Guest Post & Giveaway: Jordan Castillo Price

As you probably know by now, I’m a huge fan of M/M romance, which is why when I got the opportunity to host Jordan Castillo Price I almost died of the happy-dance. Yep, I’ve been happy-dancing for a week now waiting for today to arrive because I love her books so much. She’s with us today talking about secondary characters and their importance, a topic I find very interesting since secondary characters are often just as important as the main ones. 

Please help me give her a warm welcome!

Who You Callin’ Minor??
The Importance of Minor Characters

While most stories are known by their main characters (and occasionally their memorable villains), it would be tough to create a novel-length work without throwing some minor characters into the mix. Without minor characters, your storyverse would be a pretty empty place. Let’s take a closer look at how minor characters fit in with the story, hopefully without overwhelming it. I’ll use examples from my latest release, The Starving Years, to illustrate three major functions of minor characters.

Compare and Contrast

The “bigger” minor characters are the supporting actors and actresses of the story. They are the main characters’ friends, bosses, neighbors and family members. Successful supporting characters both compare and contrast with the main characters in some way. The three main characters of The Starving Years—Nelson, Javier and Tim—are put in various situations where they need to weigh doing the right thing versus how much personal risk is involved. There are two “big” side characters who round out the group: Marianne and Randy.

Minor character Marianne is the character with the biggest conscience. In her first scene, she witnesses Randy stealing an answer from Nelson at a job fair and making it out to be his own, and she is so shocked and appalled by the unfairness of it that she gets more upset than even Nelson does. Throughout the story, whenever the group begins to fall apart and diverge over the next course of action, Marianne is the one with enough clarity to say, “Here’s what we’re doing, and we’re doing it because it’s right.” The main characters’ intrinsic morality is amplified by Marianne.

Minor character Randy is the odd man out in the group. His ethics are dubious, he’s very interested in money, and he has a smartass frat-boy personality that rubs many of the other characters wrong. Randy is a contrast character (otherwise known as a foil) who draws the main characters’ personality traits out by opposing them. In particular, he’s a wonderful contrast to main character Tim, who is both selfless and painfully self-conscious. Later in the story when the two of them pair off to solve their part of the quest, their scenes together really sing.

Out of Sight, Not Out of Mind

Minor characters can make a profound impact on a story even if they have no actual page-time, through flashbacks, memories and anecdotes. Main character Javier has a tumultuous relationship with his family. Here’s an appearance from his mother—or rather, the effect of his upbringing by her:

Javier squeezed the manna between his thumb and forefinger. It was moist, and not too springy. His mother would faint to see him eating with his hands—and not because he’d just waded through the morgue and hadn’t had anywhere to wash them. There were manners at stake.

Another side character whose presence is palpable, yet who never appears on-page, is Tim’s ex-boyfriend.

Tim’s ex would kiss him hello and goodbye—and, in a rote sort of way, when they had sex. Always the same. He’d fasten onto Tim’s upper lip and suck it, all the while flicking his tongue back and forth, back and forth, like a metronome ticking down the moments until they could finish up, flush the condom down the toilet, and rinse off in the shower. But there was nothing regular about kissing Nelson.

Poor Tim, I absolutely cringe every time I read that passage. (Notice, the off-page ex is a good contrast for main character Nelson without even being present!)

Inanimate Objects

The potential for minor character interaction isn’t limited to people. Homes, pets, musical instruments, locales and cherished objects can all make fascinating minor characters. Who can forget Tom Hanks’ relationship with the volleyball Wilson in Castaway?

In The Starving Years, several inanimate objects are minor characters of sorts. The “miracle food” that solved the problem of world hunger, manna, steals the scene whenever it makes an appearance. Most of the characters treat it like that ubiquitous neighbor they’ve never looked twice at—all of them but Nelson, the food scientist, who later realizes there’s something hinky going on beneath that mild-mannered veneer.

Tim’s old moving van with its hastily painted-over logos is another faithful character. She’s on her last legs (or wheels, or struts…) but somehow she always finds the reserves to squeak them out of their latest harrowing strait.

While they may be minor, the supporting cast of a story should never be taken for granted. They advance the plot, contribute to the world-building, and most importantly, they bring out the personalities of the main characters. 

Think back to your favorite minor characters. How would that story have been different without them?

About the author:

Jordan Castillo Price is the author of the PsyCop series and the owner of JCP Books LLC. She writes paranormal, horror and thriller novels from her isolated and occasionally creepy home in rural Wisconsin. 

Connect with Jordan in the following places:

The Starving Years is Jordan’s latest release. 

Imagine a world without hunger. In 1960, a superfood was invented that made starvation a thing of the past, but now something has gone horribly wrong. Can Nelson the food scientist, Javier the copywriter and Tim the I.T. guy get to the bottom of it while a riot rages through Manhattan and society begins to crumble? 

Read the first chapter of this fast-paced m/m/m thriller at http://jcpbooks.com/ebook/starving.html


Jordan has offered an e-copy of The Starving Years as price to one lucky commenter. In order to win all you have to do is leave a comment, you can answer Jordan’s question above (the one in bold) or tell us about your favorite secondary characters. This time I’m using the Rafflecopter tool in order to offer one extra entry so remember to fill in the Rafflecopter widget once you comment. Contest open to all.

NOTE: Rafflecopter asks for you to add the url if you tweet about it, but you can skip it, I know that it's annoying so just tweeting about it will do, no need to add proof, just click "done". 

a Rafflecopter giveaway


  1. I already have Starving Years, so don't enter me in the contest. I really love this story. It's haunting. And you didn't mention some of my favorite secondary characters - Nelson's family. Their warm dynamic is a wonderful contrast to the cold specter of Javier's mother and to Tim's loneliness.

    Thanks for the great tips on secondary characters. Starving Years is chock full of really good examples.

  2. I love that you enjoyed Nelson's family! He, Tim and Javier all have totally different relationships with their families, don't they? I'm struck most by Tim's, I think, about how they try to have a relationship and do everything "by the book" but somehow they're still not really connected.

    Marianne's relationship with her parents contrasts with Tim's in the way she's constantly worrying about calling them and reassuring them that she's okay, whereas Tim sent the two-word email.

  3. Since we're talking secondary characters and Jordan Castillo Price, I really love Lisa from the Psy/Cop series. She is a great example of how important these characters are for the plot and the leads. Some times they even become the main characters, like Jules from Suzanne Brockmann's Troubleshooter series.

    Great post and thanks for the giveaway!!

  4. My favorite book, Tahn by L.A. Kelly, depends heavily on the "minor" characters. If it weren't for the seven orphaned children that Tahn sets out to save and Netta can't justify leaving, those two would've never been anything more than reluctant enemies! I love those kids. They're the heart of the story.

  5. In a recent read, (Tempting Danger by Eileen Wilks), the minor characters ("Old Ones") set up the murders and mystery that the main characters are trying to solve. Like in a lot of old mythology, where the gods are behind the scenes interfering in all the main characters lives.

    Mandy Beyers

  6. Lisa is a favorite of mine too. I love it when she's staying with Vic in Secrets and they eat a meal that's just several orders of french fries.

    Seven kids must be a huge undertaking for a writer to wrangle! I find it difficult to block the scene when there's more than three or four people in it.

  7. I'll have to take a look at Tempting Danger, I just love the sound of that premise. I adore the idea of meddling gods.

  8. Hey Jordan, thank you for visit us! it is an honor to have you in our blog.

    Talking about minor characters Quinn and Blay from the Black Dagger Brotherhood Series by J.R. Ward are my favorites. They have become more and more important in the last books (BTW I just finished Lover Reborn and they played a major role!) but at the beginning they were more background noise.

    Thanks for the giveaway!!


  9. Hi Jordan! I lover you Psy Cops series and this book sounds great. A recent side character I really liked is Collin and Kyle in Frat Boy and Toppy by Anne Tenino. I love the way minor characters can really round out the story. Great interview!

  10. Thanks for having me, Marie! I'm of two minds about minor characters who become major. On one hand, I like the organic development of the characterization being able to go where it needs to go, but on the other I wonder if the main characters aren't strong enough if the minor characters are able to steal the show. I'm sure it varies from book to book to book.

    "Rounding out" the story is a great way of putting it, Jay!

    1. Jordan you are right, while the minor character "round out the story" (thanks for the term jayhjay)the focus should be on the main characters. It a matter of balancing the story and, in my opinion, one of the things that makes writing a complicated process. So my admiration for you and most of the other authors writing fiction.

    2. Whoops, I missed your comment before, Marie!

      You're so right, the whole process is like a big balancing act. Show vs. Tell. Action vs. Description. How much attention should go to plot, to setting, to dialog, to characterization? Writing is all a series of choices, from choosing what to write about to selecting just the right word. It psyches me out when I think about it too hard.

  11. Yeap, I agree that Psy Cop stories are interesting!

    The secondary characters that caught my attention would be Twisted Hilarity's Husband for Peace "Brinald and Vane" and Tymber Dalton's Acquainted with the Night "Cooper and Nate" . These characters play a big role in assisting the main characters and without them, I doubt the impact of the story would keep me hooked.

  12. There is something special about the protagonists being able to find allies. It was a big part of GhosTV for Vic to find a few helpers at PsyTrain, even if they weren't necessarily that helpful.

  13. I think secondary characters can help the book but also hurt it. Most of the times they can feel like they are there to serve the plot and move it forward, so they read as flat plot devices instead of developed characters. They can also be there as sequel bait, you know the reason they appear in the book is just to set up their future stories, nothing wrong with it unless they end up being more interesting than the main characters, or their scenes feel like fillers that don’t add anything to the story. But when the secondary characters actually have a reason to be, when their role in the plot feels organic and like it belongs there, when they enrich the story and the other characters but don’t overshadow the leads, that’s when secondary characters shine.

    I really like Lisa because she has such an important role in the overall series but she never takes the spotlight, you miss her when she isn’t’ there (even though in a way she’s always present), but when she is you never feel like she should go away so we can get more Jacob and Vic. The Psy/Cop series has a great example of inanimate objects as secondary characters, Camp Hell. It even gets a book, right? The mystery behind it, it’s important to the characters, the world building, the story arch, and to the reader.

    I always talk about how much I love The Guardian Series by Meljean Brook, but that series is a great example of remarkable secondary characters. Most of them actually become heroes/heroines of their own story, but even the character that’s obviously the main protagonist of the whole thing, they guy whose book will be the last, plays a secondary role in all the books and never casts a shadow over the other characters. There’s obviously a bit of sequel bait there, but they never play filler roles.

    Awesome post Jordan! Thank you for being part of the blog for one day!!

  14. Great post Jordan!

    I've found that some minor characters, though used for comedic relief, end up being my favorites because their humor often has a serious back story.

    One question I have: Have you ever had a side or minor character start out with one purpose, and then grow in ways you didn't expect?

  15. Lots of juicy stuff to think about it your comment, Brie! I think if the minor characters overshadow the main characters, it's time to look at what's wrong with the main character and find some "inner depths" inside them. Writers who draft by the seat of their pants end up with conundrums like that all the time (I do, anyway) and it's a matter of being ruthless in reining things back in when the story starts getting away from you. I'm not saying make side characters dull--I'm saying have them play off the main characters in such a way that the main characters are even more fascinating.

    I haven't quite pinpointed what's so special about the Vic/Lisa dynamic to me, but I think maybe one thing is that neither of them show their vulnerabilities to other people lightly, but both of them did early on with each other.

    Kim, I love your question. I really enjoy taking my side characters in unexpected directions. Especially in series, it's one of my favorite things to bring back someone you thought was done and have them play a new part in the story. Examples of this would be Dr. Jim in Channeling Morpheus and Con Dreyfuss in PsyCop. It's like they get richer and deeper as more layers are revealed. And yet it's never like they threaten to overtake the scene; the protagonist is always clear. Maybe because I particularly love doing this with characters the protagonist has a high level of discomfort with. They're there to provide the grit and anxiety that the story pearl can form around.

  16. @Kim W. Comedic relief! I love those too, although not when they are too cartoonish and ridiculous, which often happens with heavy drama. There must be a line and they can be all comedy all the time, they must have some depth and know when to be serious. But I do think they are my favorite type of secondary character.

    @Kim W., @Jordan: interesting question/answer. I always wonder about the process of secondary to main character. As I said before, at times you can see the sequel bait, but there are also books where the secondary characters develop and grow and gain more importance and it’s obvious that the original idea wasn’t for them to have a starring role. I wonder if readers have some influence in that, maybe a character becomes so popular that they almost demand their story (I see this happen all the time, it happens to me! I always fall for one of the minor characters and keep wishing to read more about them). That’s another interesting topic, where does the author draw the line and how much influence readers have over the characters and their fate?

  17. Think back to your favorite minor characters. How would that story have been different without them?

    Well, in Lynn Flewelling's Nightrunner series, the story simply would not be complete without characters like the healer or the blind old man in the beginning--she shows just how widespread the network of spies and helpers is.
    I can't call Micah or Becca or Klia minor characters--they are side characters, but they get so much screen time and are all talked about plenty when not there, so they are not minor at all.
    But all the characters that do one thing and then vanish give a wonderful flavor to the world--the nightrunner series would be a lot less awesome and feel a lot less real without any one of them.

    1. I suspect what I'm calling "minor" characters are the ones you're thinking of as "side" characters--anyone who's not the protagonist, antagonist or love interest.

  18. I already have Starving Years, so please don't include me in the draw. My favourite second character is Crash -- I simply cannot get enough of him ; well so long as he keeps his mitts off Vic LOL but the creation of a so called secondary character that still creates such a buzz is a huge achievement -- he steals the scenes he is in !!

    1. I think of Crash as the representation of "the road not taken" for Vic. A kind of anti-Vic. The way life could have been for him had he not been burdened with the powers he was born with and the early life he led. Crash is a good contrast. So glad you enjoy him! (He wouldn't be Crash if he kept his hands off Vic.)

  19. I was thinking about all the books I've read and what can I add to this discussion, and I remembered "Rhapsody for Piano and Ghost" by Z.A. Maxfield. There are several wonderful secondary characters - pair of ghosts Julian and Serge, mysterious housekeeper/ex-scientist Marguerite, absent (on another honeymoon trip) mother and so on. The problem with those characters is they are so colorful they steel the show. The main couple - two boys, quite remarkable in their own way - appear bland surrounded by those funny, mysterious, surprising cast. I ended skimming through the 'main' plot to the parts featuring secondary characters. This lack of balance annoyed me and took one star from my final rating of the book.

  20. It's a funny thing when the side characters start overshadowing the main characters, and I think it's an easy trap to fall into as a writer, because of course you want all the parts of your book to be fascinating, so why would you rein in the secondary characters? (When they compete with your main characters, obviously.) Main characters usually have more marks they need to hit, more specific plot points, so I wonder if that's where they don't have as much room sometimes to be as edgy.


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