Secondary Storylines: A Plot’s Friend or Foe?

For starters, this post—as is the case with all my others—expresses my opinions and conclusions about the craft of writing. Having written for just ten years, I can only speak for myself and what I’ve learned works for me.

Every story needs characters, and unless the protagonist(s) is stranded in space or on a deserted island, it needs secondary ones, as well. According to, a secondary character “is necessary to the story because this character reveals key details, motivates the protagonist, foils the protagonist, or helps define the story’s setting.” In short, he/she is more than a maid of honor who holds the bride’s bouquet. They add life to the story and bring their own perspective of what the protagonist is facing.

In my writing, I’ve tried to employ secondary and minor characters to accomplish the objectives cited above. With them, I’ve hoped to fill my plots with humor, conflict, and originality. After all, few would want to read a story that relies solely on one character.

This said, I’ve found the need to refrain from putting too much emphasis on secondary characters and their own stories. Sure, it’s nice to pan over to them on occasion, but what they do should have some influence to do with the main storyline. Otherwise, the reader could be distracted or confused.

Even with protagonists, however, it can be easy to throw in too many elements. Just the term “novel” can intimidate a new writer, as it might seem impossible to carry one story through 50,000+ words. Out of desperation, one might decide to bop back and forth between subjects. While some transitions do enhance a plot, too many can, again, lose the reader.

One of my favorite writing techniques is flashbacks. I feel that they give a glimpse into a character’s current traits by uncovering past experiences, so both Husband in Hiding and Forgetting My Way Back to You have them scattered throughout. As much as I love sculpting them, though, I realize too many can detract from the present happenings. Even if my readers enjoy them, I wouldn’t want them so engrossed in them that they lose interest in the rest.

As I stated earlier, my views are based on my tastes and individual style. Some authors are great with balancing several storylines and making readers care about each one. Regardless of style, I think it’s important to stay in touch with who we were before writing—readers! We should be our story’s first and most frequent reader, and if certain elements aren’t as captivating as we thought, we can’t be ashamed to cut them. That way, we put ourselves in our audience’s place in efforts to give them the pleasure our favorite authors have given us.


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