to Center Stage:
It's Good When Tertiary Characters
Hog the Camera
is Christine Gorecki. Honestly, she
was only going to be in one, maybe two scenes, and that was it.
She was supposed to be a secondary character that helped the story move
along. Her first name is my
cousin's name; her last is a song by techno-popsters Lamb.
'She has long, curly blonde hair' , is an adept in the metaphysical arts,
an ex-cop who has her own "spiritual crime investigations" office, and
used to work with two of the lead characters.
That's the entirety of the background I gave Christine for my current
story, A Division of Souls. And
yet I can't help but think I have the perfect "gumshoe private eye"
character to place in a short story or three.
this happen? What exactly did I do
for Christine that made me love the idea of her?
I can think of only one reason: I'd
made her truly unique to the story instead of making her generic, a passing
acquaintance. She had a background:
she used to work for the Alien Relations Unit in Bridgetown alongside
Alec Poe, one of the main characters in the book.
Poe and Christine weren't lovers, but there had been an instant bond
between the two. Consider the first
time she's mentioned—Poe and his
ARU partner Caren are meeting with, a psychic government agent named Kai (who
admittedly has a thing for Poe):
do you think?" Poe said. Kai
looked at him quizzically until he realized he was talking to Caren.
"Nice view, eh?"
bad," she said, noncommittally.
Poe's eyes suddenly sparkled. "Hey,
you know who'd love it up here? Christine
The mention of the woman's name perked Caren's mood up significantly.
happened to her? Sure, she'd love
it up here. All the space and
peace she'd need for her spiritwork."
"I really should call her," Poe said.
"I'd almost feel guilty if we didn't involve her in this
somehow." He turned to Kai and smiled.
"Christine's one of the best freelance spiritworkers in the
Kai nodded. "Has she worked with the two of you?"
"Off and on," Caren said.
"Although we haven't spoken to her in about six months or
"Her choice," Poe said.
"'Spiritual burnout' is what she told me."
short conversation, we learn things about Christine, in the following
order—Poe has a place in his heart for her; Caren's mood lightens at her name,
suggesting the same; Poe thinks well enough of her that she should be included
in their current investigation; Kai may or may not be jealous of the bond she
and Poe share; and lastly, Christine has recently overworked her psychic
other words, Christine Gorecki is a smart, but burned out, detective who's well
liked and trusted by many of her former co-workers but prone to rubbing people
the wrong way, even unintentionally. Okay, that last one may be a bit of a
stretch, but hey—this is speculative fiction. We can embellish all we
want. So in that one scene I've given Christine a believable background
without even bringing her onstage.
what I like to call a "third-tier" character.
She's not a main character, nor is she even secondary.
She appears in only four or five scenes, but they're all pivotal scenes.
I like using third-tier characters in my stories, because they serve more
of a purpose than a "peanut gallery" to the main characters, yet
they're not constantly sticking around like those secondary characters do.
They are believable people we might meet on the street or at work, people
we may know little about yet they affect our lives in some way, whether we
notice it or not.
was the moment that I realized I had a great character just waiting to break
out? Consider a pivotal scene close
to the climax of the book. Poe
needs Christine's help in performing a difficult ritual to save the day:
later she returned wearing a black B-Town Saints ballcap and a dark green
overcoat and carrying a briefcase. She
set the briefcase down on the floor and gestured for him to carry it.
She smiled at him as if she hadn't minded his sudden rush; in fact, she
looked as if this job had been the biggest one she'd had since they last spoke.
She closed and locked her office, and led him through the back to a rear
stairwell that led up all six floors and down two basement levels.
She bounded up the back stairs so quickly that Poe nearly had to run in
order to catch up.
"So what are we looking at?" she asked over her shoulder.
"The Rain of Light," Poe wheezed.
"Slow down, kid. You
know I still smoke."
That elicited a laugh from her. "Then
quit. Rain, huh? Sounds
like a simple case of corruption. Anyone
I know cause it?"
This time Poe laughed, though his was laced with a bitter taste.
"Haven't you been watching the news, Christine?
This is a religious war we're fighting here. That thing was wakened by a Mihari and corrupted by a
"I know," she kidded. "Just
wanted to make sure you were up on things."
He shook his head. "I
should know better than to talk to you, shouldn't I?"
"Yes, you should," she smiled.
during the writing of this passage, I realized I had something:
Christine is one mysterious woman. She's
someone everyone likes, yet nobody really knows too much about her.
Not even me, and I created her!
She playfully toys with Poe's mind by remaining aloof, yet we realize
that her mind is running in overdrive, planning her next moves before anyone has
even mentioned them. She doesn't
take crap from anyone, not even Poe. And
though she takes things very seriously, she's not above injecting a little humor
into a tense situation to alleviate stress.
complex character for someone who only has a bit part!
I just had to get to know her. Although
I have not put anything regarding Christine down on paper, or on the computer
screen since, I know I can definitely use her for other projects and sequels
without worrying about how much background I've put into the character.
Mentally I picture Christine's stories as shorts involving offbeat crimes
that only she has the experience (and the patience) to solve.
All this from a few one-off lines.
you find yourself dwelling over a secondary or tertiary character like I've been
doing here, by all means, create as much background for this person as you like.
You know you're not going to use all of it in the main novel, so why let
it go to waste? Write a short story
or two involving this person. Write
a vignette of your main story from their point of view.
Regardless of the outcome, it's a "win-win-win" situation.
First, this is a wonderful side project when you need a break from the
main story. Second, any amount of time you spend writing, regardless of
what it is, is always a good thing! Finally,
and most importantly, you will definitely have a better understanding of your
characters within the main story and they will all appear more real, not only to
you but your reader.
excerpts from A Division of Souls by Jon Chaisson)