Please welcome Anne Cleeland to the blog today. Anne is giving away a copy of her book, Murder in Thrall, and talking about secondary characters, one of my favorite topics.
Here is the cover.
And the blurb.
From Anne Cleeland comes the first in a captivating new mystery series, following the perilous exploits of two Scotland Yard detectives as they track down London’s most elusive killer. . .
First-year detective Kathleen Doyle and Chief Inspector Michael Sinclair, Lord Acton, are a most unlikely pair. An Irish redhead of humble beginnings and modest means, Doyle is the antithesis of Acton, the British lord who has established himself as a brilliant but enigmatic figure with a knack for solving London’s most high profile homicides. But Acton senses something exceptional beneath Doyle’s awkward naiveté and taps her to help him with his investigations. And her spot-on intuition is just what he needs to solve a chilling string of murders. . .
When a horse trainer is found dead at a racetrack, Doyle and Acton begin interviewing witnesses and the victim’s associates, but the killer continues to strike and they’re left with more questions than answers. Their investigation is further muddled by their colleagues at CID Headquarters, whose career-driven jealousies and workplace blunders could jeopardize the case–and their nosing into the nature of Doyle and Acton’s after hours relationship could lay bare the most classified information of all. . .
Perhaps the trainer was the target of a jilted lover on a killing spree. Or maybe the victims were collateral damage in a political coup gone awry. As the murders pile up, Doyle and Acton uncover something far more sadistic than they could have imagined, and now that they know too much, they’ll find themselves squarely in the crosshairs of a cold-blooded killer. . .
Buy link: Amazon
Scheming Rivals and Deplorable Relatives: How Minor Characters Enrich a Romance
Although opinions may vary, a list of the best romances of all time would probably include these four stories near the top: Pride and Prejudice, Outlander, Jane Eyre, and Twilight.
What do these stories have in common? The heroine has a Deplorable Relative as well as a Scheming Rival. But that’s not all; the heroine also has a Kind Friend to confide in, a Despicable Villain to best, and at least one acquaintance who seems impossibly good.
Notice that—while the heroine is usually a complex combination of character traits—the secondary players all tend to fit into time-honored roles, almost as though they are placeholders. There’s a reason for this, and it’s been the same reason since fairy tales were first recited: it makes for a very satisfying story.
In Pride and Prejudice, Lizzie and Darcy’s happily ever after is made all the more sweet because we know Caroline Bingley is gnashing her teeth in frustrated rage somewhere. Ditto for Blanche Ingram in Jane Eyre who is—when you think about it—the same character as Caroline Bingley, and the same character as the Baroness von Schraeder in The Sound of Music, and the same character as either of the wicked stepsisters (take your pick) in Cinderella. We get an extra measure of satisfaction when the union of the lovers also thwarts the Mean Girl, who didn’t deserve the hero in the first place.
Another staple character is the Deplorable Relative—which probably strikes such a chord because everyone has one. The heroine is related to someone she’d rather not be related to, and it serves as another source of hardship. Again, there is a fairy tale aspect to this element; Mrs. Bennet may not be wicked, but she is an embarrassment to Lizzie and one more reason she is ineligible as a potential bride. Mrs. Reed is downright wicked to Jane, even after her promise to Jane’s dead uncle. Bella’s mother sets all events in train by marrying someone unsuitable, and Dougal MacKenzie is not exactly what you would call a supportive uncle-in-law.
Of course, there are always exceptions to these placeholder roles—in Gone with the Wind, the Scheming Rival is the heroine of the story, after all—but in general, the addition of these tried-and-true characters helps to make a story three-dimensional and in a satisfying way, predictable. As soon as we realize there is a Scheming Rival, we happily settle in to await her inevitable comeuppance. When we are introduced to the Deplorable Relative, we are immediately aware that he or she will contribute to the conflict in the story—because that’s what Deplorable Relatives always do. And although we weep when the Impossibly Good Person dies, we saw it coming from a mile away.
In Daughter of the God-King, one of the secondary characters is the heroine’s companion, Bing. Before I sold the story, an agent was very taken with this character, and suggested that I concoct a “story arc” for her. I respectfully disagreed; Bing is the placeholder for the Staunch Supporter and in my view has no business competing with the heroine’s storyline.
The classic romance is all about the heroine—the heroine and her journey to happily ever after. This being said, the storyline is enhanced many times over when along that journey the heroine interacts with interesting secondary characters—whether they be Staunch Supporters, Vile Betrayers, or Kindly Benefactors. It’s no coincidence that many of our favorite stories have a large, well-drawn supporting cast, and the heroine becomes a stronger and more compelling character because of it.
Who are your favorite secondary characters, and why?
Anne Cleeland is the author of Murder in Thrall, the first book in a new mystery series featuring Acton and Doyle, two Scotland Yard detectives. She is an attorney living in California, and also writes a historical fiction series. Her website is http://www.annecleeland.com.