Trouble with My Secondary Character

(Originally published Nov. 28, 2007).

Like all authors, I possess limitless power over my characters’ development. With a few well-chosen clicks of the keyboard, I can create a risk taker or a coward; a nurturing parent or a jealous shrew; a responsible CEO or a charming playboy.

So why was I having so much trouble wrapping my head around Jenna, one of my secondary characters in FUR BALL FEVER? Her goal, her motivation, her entire personality eluded me. I couldn’t picture her. Part of my problem, I believe, stemmed from the fact that Jenna, although a minor character in FUR BALL FEVER, will become the heroine of the next book in the Condo Capers Mystery series.

I decided it was time to go back to basics, so I hauled out my trusty Complete Writer’s Guide to Heroes and Heroines by Tami Cowden, Caro LaFever, and Sue Viders. Presto, Jenna is now a Spunky Kid, complete with a child of her own, and on the run from her past.

Here’s the summary of a Spunky Kid archetype:

“Gutsy and true, the Spunky Kid is loyal to the end. She is a favourite of many writers, and for good reason. You can’t help but root for her. She’s the girl with moxie. She’s not looking to be at the top of the heap; she just wants to be in her own little niche. She’s the team player, the one who is always ready to lend a hand. Think Meg Ryan in Sleepless in Seattle, Melanie Griffith in Working Girl, Mary Tyler Moore in The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Whoopi Goldberg in Sister Act, Fiona in Shrek.”

With the power comes the responsibility. As an author, it is my job to lay the groundwork for Jenna’s story in the next book of the series. I need to understand everything that makes her tick, even if she refuses to reveal herself fully in FUR BALL FEVER. To do Jenna justice, I need to know about her background, her personality, her issues and traumas, her goals and motivation, her internal and external conflict.