BLACK ARTS and Secondary Characters


Happy New Year, Everyone!

1609060191_9780451465245_medium_Black_Arts This is my first post of 2014, with the new format, and (gasp, can it be so?) I have a book release today. Yes. Today. I’ve a case of the jitters worthy of a bee keeper who is allergic to bees, because I quit my job at the lab in the  hopes that I’ll hit high enough in the lists and sales numbers to actually pay my bills. Yes. You heard right. I am solely and completely a full time writer now, instead of being a full time writer and full time lab rat (for the benefits). Instead of the 80 hour work weeks I have pulled for the last 20 years, I’ll be working only 50 hours each week. I will be resting. Paddling white water. Resting. Yoga-ing. Resting. Baking bread again. I have a loaf cooling now. And I had massage this morning. I have no idea what to do with myself, except that I will adore being *just a writer*. So go out and get your copy of BLACK ARTS. Please! (Picture me wringing my hands in woe and fear and excitement.)

As most of you know, this is my fourth release in the last two months, and it probably is getting tiresome reading about Jane Yellowrock all the time, so I thought I’d talk today about another character and share some author cruelty … uh … I meant to say creativity. Right. Creativity. We all love to be evil to our characters, and there are none so easy to torture as the secondary characters. I speak now of Ricky Bo LaFleur.

Some secondary characters are going to be important enough in a standalone or series, to require backstories and lives that move forward with the story-lines, along with the Main Character. When I started the series, Rick appeared on the first few pages, and I knew he’d be important. His backstory was quick and dirty, lean and mean, and only in the back of my head. I came up with it when I wrote the first lines of the chapter. He was Frenchy, a pretty boy, a musician (saxophone in a R&B band), and an undercover cop with a history of trouble with witches and vamps, when he first ran into Jane.

In a short story written from his POV, which took place in the series timeline pre-Jane, but was written somewhere around book 3, readers and fans learned his backstory:
1. He was kidnapped by an insane vampire.
2. The vamp had a witch-tattoo-artist under her control.
3. The tattoos on his arms and shoulder were inked under duress, filled with a spell of binding.
4. He was saved at the last minute, before the binding could take place, but the tattoos were still there, waiting to be activated. At that point in his life, he met Jane in SKINWALKER. That is when his torture really began. He made the mistake of falling in love with Jane.

Rick’s story has been woven tightly with Jane’s. He’s been:

5. Bitten by a were-black-leopard.
6. Kidnapped (again) this time by werewolves.
7. Who recognized the binding of the tattoo and tried to chew it off.
8. Tortured by the werewolves.
9. Given the were-taint which was supposed to turn him into a were-creature himself.
8. But those dang tattoos… They stopped the transition.
10. Now Rick is stuck in the human form. The pain of the full moon, when his body wants to shape shift requires him to have music to keep the pain at bay and keep him sane. All this by the end of BLOOD TRADE.
11. And the we come to the two novellas (one in the Jane Yellowrock World Companion e-book and the Audible Cat O’Nine Tales audio book) when he seems to be getting his life back in shape and growing closer to Jane. And then …  
12. BLACK ARTS. And bad stuff happens to him. NO spoilers. I promise. But let me just say, Rick is really a strong character, because I’d have run screaming into the hills to have lived his life.

It sounds horrible to say, but there is no torture too bad to give a secondary character. Their lives can and should impact the Main Character’s life and the storyline. What they do should matter. What they want and fear and love and hate should matter. Who they are should matter, should affect the Main Character. Secondary characters can be important. They can be vital to the Main Character. And if so, they need to be more than cut outs pasted on the page.

What secondary characters from novels or TV or film have been more than two dimensional paper-dolls?  Who are your favorites, and what did the writers do to them?


Faith Hunter has written the Jane Yellowrock series and the Rogue Mage series, as well as the RPG Rogue Mage. Several of her novels have appeared on the New York Times and USA Today Bestseller lists, and she has two new books under contract. Under the pen name Gwen Hunter, she has written action adventure, mysteries, and thrillers. Under all her pen names, she has 30 books in print in 29 countries.

Faith is a workaholic and playaholic who makes jewelry, collects orchids and bones, travels in her RV with her hubby and two dogs, and white-water kayaks.  She also tries to keep house and cook, but since she started writing two books a year, she may have forgotten how to turn on the appliances.




30 comments to BLACK ARTS and Secondary Characters

  • I somehow missed out on the TV show Castle when it first started airing, so I’ve been catching up with it the past few weeks – currently on Season 3. I was just discussing two of the minor characters (Esposito and Ryan) with my son and we were both impressed with how they’ve developed those characters rather than just let them be the 2-dimensional gofers that they could be.

    Their relationship with Castle has developed into friendship, they have inside jokes, and backstory sufficient to make you care about them. They’re minor, but it would hurt if either of them is killed off, and it’s pulled off in such a subtle way that I don’t think I could even explain how they do it. I guess it’s like the progression of a real relationship over time – that bond forms and you can feel that on the screen.

    But I ramble… I still haven’t read any of your books, Faith – urban fantasy has never been a draw for me. But the more I see about them the more intriguing they become. I’ve at least now added them to my GoodReads queue 😉 Good luck on the new release! I’m sure you’ll do well.

  • Got a message that my pre-ordered copy of Black Arts is on its way to my house. The only problem is that I am not yet on the way to my house–the cold and snow have disrupted my flights and extended my vacation. But the book should be waiting for me when I arrive!

    I’ve always liked the secondary (and even tertiary) characters in Kim Harrison’s Hollows series. Ivy, Jenks, Trent, Ceri, Matalina, David, Nick, Al . . . all of them work as individuals. And all of them have suffered throughout the series!

  • Dave, books that are called urban fantasy cover so many different genres that they, as a sub genre of the fantasy genre, are a paranormal mashup. In my case, if you take hardboiled detective stories, toss in a hint of noir, some Cherokee lore and mythos, stir in vampires who are often like escapees from a psycho ward, and splash the series liberally with horror movie gore, and finish it off with a soupcon of romance, you’ll have my books.

    All that said, I LOVE CASTLE! The characters are warm and intense and well acted. Actually better acted than written, though the writers have taken the police procedural and done something totally new with it, which I adore. They need more medical people on the set and in the writing department however. In last night’s episode Espisito and Ryan were trapped in a burning building and the comment was made that the carbon monoxide was building up. Then they were found unconscious. At that stage of exposure, the fire department rescuers would have been administering 100% O2, and the injured would likely have needed a lot of time spent in a hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Yeah, I know. Who cares? But writers should always strive for realism, so says the gal who writes Cherokee skinwalker novels.

  • SiSi, I am so sorry you are stuck, but extending a vacation sounds lovely! I have the weather on behind me on the TV and it’s pretty grim.

    A adore Kim’s secondary characters. Call me team Trent.

  • Ken

    There are loads of characters that come to mind. I think that the two that stand out the most in my mind are Algaliarept (From Kim Harrison’s Rachel Morgan series) and Molly Carpenter (From Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files).

    Both characters have significantly changed since they were introduced (Being put through the ringer will do that to you) and they’ve become so much a part of the stories, that you can’t really think about either series without, at least in some part, thinking about these characters.

  • Good choices, Ken. I love Molly. She’s scary and developing a dangerous edge, which makes her fascinating. I am personally less fond of Algaliarept, but I certainly see the development of the character. (Not he or she exactly, you know?) And not two dimensional at all.

  • Jeremy Beltran

    I received my audible copy at midnight and Im about to start my journey. Im most likely going to pick up a kindle copy as well the whispersync thing has been a blast with Kickin It.

    Those are good choices. Im a big Castle fan, of course Im a big Nathan Fillion fan. Besides Ryan and Esposito my favorite secondary character is Alexis. Watching her grow up has been fun and of course watching Castle squirm over PI has been really fun.

    For the Dresden Files my favorite secondary character is Karrin Murphy she has changed so much since the first book. And while Molly is a favorite, her dad Michael had an amazing arc and I was sad to see it end. Hopefully we will see him again in future books.

    And in the Jane Yellowrock books my two favorite secondary characters are Bruiser and Angie-Babie. I am firmly in the Bruiser camp for Jane’s love life and Angie is just too cute doubly so if you listen to the audiobooks. Oh and Stinky I like him too. Sheesh Faith there are soo many good ones to choose from. I mean Liz and Cia are like the wonder twins. Molly and Big Evan…ok fine darn I like them all. There I said it! My name is Jeremy and Im a Jane-aholic!

  • Hepseba ALHH

    Iro in Avatar: The Last Airbender. He starts out seeming like a character of not much consequence, but one who is at least really *likeable*. By the end of the series, he’s one of the most *impressive* and well developed and well utilized characters of all. Of course, Airbender really has the most awesome characters, period. I just single Iro out as being one of the awesome-est!

  • Cindy

    I received my ebook of Black Arts last night (benefits of being on the west coast) and I am happily reading away. I am still a Bruiser fan though. 🙂

  • Instantly, the show/series that comes to mind is from the Japanese anime “A Certain Magical Index”. In my opinion some of the secondary characters are better than the MCs. I guess that is why they are able to so successfully spin off new series based on those characters. The writers of that show do wonders with ALL the characters. Just because your name is not in the title, doesn’t mean you are a cardboard placeholder. It is like each character has its own writing team which happens to coordinate with the storyline.

    How good are they? They took one of the most evil powerful badguys (not to spoil anything) and turned him around to become an agent for good. Now he is starting his own series this year.

    Great writing all around.

  • Congratulations, Faith!! I hope that BLACK ARTS is a huge success. I’m a fan of Rick, and hate to see him suffer even more. But that’s kind of the point, isn’t it?

    Some of my favorite secondary characters were Buffy’s sidekicks — Willow, Zander, Oz, Giles. And yeah, they got put through a ton of crap over the course of the series.

  • Faith,

    Congrats on BLACK ARTS, and an even bigger congrats on leaving the lab in the dust! I hope it all tuns out smashingly well for you.

    I have a question about this topic of secondary characters: how do you decide where to draw the line? In other words, how do you keep an interesting secondary character secondary? How do you give them enough meat to be interesting, but not so much so that your readers start to wonder who the main character is and if there aren’t maybe two of them?

  • Jeremy, I couldn’t agree more with all your choices. And I’ve been a Nathan fan since Firefly. Dresden Files Michael did have a wonderful story arc and I want him back too. Maybe back-to-back with Molly, fighting together? Normally, I’d help an addicted person into a 12 step program, but with Jane, I just hope you stay addicted. 🙂

    Hep, nice choice. Yes.

    Cindy, BA will make you happy I think …

  • Mark, my niece reads anime. I need to ask her about that one. Thanks!

    David, thanks. I hope so too. 🙂 And oh Crap! How did I leave Buffy’s cast out? Perfect. And I loved the arc for Willow, poor Willow.

    Edmund, thanks. I feel oddly peaceful about having left the lab. I expected to be in a panic all the time. Instead, it’s just right in every way.

    That is an excellent question. It’s much easier in a first person POV and a single third person POV, of course. The secondary characters are always viewed through the filter of the main character’s eyes and thoughts and needs. In a multiple third person POV I think it’s a matter of keeping the emotional reactions of the primary character(s) in the forefront. And in the case of a character trying to take over, I usually just kill them off or give them their own novel or story. Hmmm. I sound so bloodthirsty for a such a sweet lil’ girl.

  • Razziecat

    Faith, I just have to say that you amaze me. I have a full time day job which is 37.5 hours. And you went from 80 (!!) to “only” 50!? Best of luck with the new book! 😀

    In my mind, there is no greater “secondary” character than Samwise Gamgee. But you have to give credit to Merry and Pippin, as well. Sam basically becomes the hero, helping Frodo to destroy the ring; but without the efforts of Pippin and Merry at stopping Saruman, preventing Faramir’s death, and helping Eowyn to finish off the Ring-Wraith, the final battles of Middle-Earth would have had a very different ending. Plus, all of them grew in wisdom and maturity, which helped them to save the Shire as well.

  • Razzie, you are so right. Perfect character. Hmmm… However, do you think he developments much? I mean, he starts out golden and ends up golden. He is loyal and honorable all the way through… I’ll have to mull that one over. He may be too perfect.

  • There are too many secondary characters that I love and would love to see grow into their own stories that I can’t even begin to sort them out and list them.
    As for Black Arts – I’ll be buying it (and Kicking It) tonight for my Kindle and Tablet, but I’m going to make myself wait until next Monday to start reading. I figure they’ll make the flight to Hawaii a lot less tiresome.
    Oh, and before you go gushing jealousy at me, the Hawaii trip is for work. Really. No, seriously. I’m going to Hawaii for 15 days to work.

  • quillet

    Faith, I’ve only read two Janes so far, so I had to cover my eyes and skip past some of what’s happened to Rick! But now I’m so curious to read what I couldn’t read just now that I’m bumping the next Jane (or two) (or three) to the top of my TBR pile.

    For secondary characters, I love the Harry Potter series. There are so many of them, and yet they’re so memorable that I have no trouble keeping them straight. Best one for an arc of change has got to be Neville Longbottom, who grows in so many ways over time. I adore Neville. And then there’s Luna. Oh, and Ginny. And Sirius. And Snape, OMG SNAPE!

    My sympathies to Sisi. I made it home just barely ahead of the latest snow — the drive home from the airport was hairy — and now it’s so cold I’d rather not be here. 😉 Seriously, though, I can only imagine the frustration. I hope you make it home safely soon.

  • mudepoz

    All I can say is…you messed with my Ricky Bo.

  • Cindy

    I have read all the Janes and this one was awesome as usual. Interesting how some folks like Rick and some Bruiser…….

  • Lyn, my heart goes out to you. I am so sorry you are going to such a hellhole to … work. 🙂

    Quillet, SNAPE!

    Mud, I did not expect it to happen. I was totally surprised. Really. I had far bigger plans for Ricky Bo.

    Cindy, there are teams for each, yes. And after this book I have no idea how the original, intended story arc can ever happen.

  • inkfire

    I’ve always been a sucker for the bad guys. Red Remmington in the nbc show Blacklist is the most epicest (we’re all going to pretend for the moment that that’s a word) villain ever. And at the same time, not a villian (he’s a and guy working for the good guys). And, as a result, an extraordinary secondary character. I also love (I told you, bad guys are my thing) David’s Sephira Pryce. I think she might be my favorite character, I can’t decide, it’s her or Ethan. Her personality is great……

  • Ink, David never wrote a character I didn’t love, good, bad, or secondary.

  • Congratulations on Black Arts. May great success follow you around everywhere you go. Edgar on the short-lived TV series King and Maxwell was a favorite secondary character. He was a well developed as a lovable, autistic savant. I agree with you on Castle.

  • Congrats on Black Arts 🙂 I loved Captain Carrot from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. Captain Carrot is much too nice and far too perfect to ever make it as a main character, but he’s a quite intriguing secondary character, simply because you can’t believe Pratchett would ever write a textbook hero who never ever goes wrong.
    There’s also Lestrade from the BBC series “Sherlock”. He’s very much in the background, but his blunt mannerisms and kind streak make him loveable.

  • Thank you Vyton. You are too kind! I didn’t see King and Maxwell. 🙁

    Unicorn, I do remember C. Carrot! Lovely!

  • skaadi

    Hi Faith–Currently reading “Death’s Rival”, so trying to avoid spoilers on this thread!

    I wanted to ask you about this quote in your post: “It sounds horrible to say, but there is no torture too bad to give a secondary character.” …because it immediately made me think of the “fridging” trope in literature and other media. Admittedly, I’m personally pretty squeamish reading about and imagining torture so it turns me off viscerally, but I also think it can leave a bad taste when it seems obviously there to prod the MC into some kind of guilt or action. It seems pretty common in the current paranorm genre (I’ve read LKH, Charlaine Harris & Jim Butcher among others and they’ve all utilized this trope to varying degrees). What are your thoughts?

    (I’m also rather a Leo fan and wish he’d get more positive spotlight time!)

  • Happy release day!

    My absolute favourite secondary character has to be Monroe the Blutbad (werewolf) on the TV show Grimm. Especially when the main character Nick was still babyfaced and innocent, Monroe the vegan clockmaker wolf-man and fallback advice guy for Nick when he was new to his Grimm powers helped carry the show. Monroe constantly defies stereotypes. His “kind” isn’t even supposed to associate with Grimms, but because he has, he’s helped Nick work towards a new world order. And he’s always a riot, acting as comic relief on top of all that.

  • Skaadi, I admit that torture wasn’t a literal thing more an authorial concept. I visited a wax museum when I was 12, a museum that was a replica of a torture chamber. In real life, NO! Torture is horrible. Torture from an authorial angle can be facing our own demons, or being left without Twinkies. 🙂 As to Leo — that guy needs to grow up some more, you know? He’s stuck in a Middle Ages train of thought and needs to be jump-started out of it. Which starts to happen in Broken Soul. Shhhh. Don’t tell.

  • Laura. GRIMM! Perfect angle on the 2ndary character.