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Secondary Characters

Friday, July 14, 2006

Okay, so far with our discussion of the craft of romance writing, we’ve discussed beginnings and the promise that we set up for our readers with the first few chapters of our novels, and we’ve discussed how our Heroes/Heroines meet and the importance of making the Meet distinctive and memorable.

Now, let’s discuss two very important minor characters. Most romances have them (you just may not recognize them), and they can be vitally important to your story in many ways.

Here are the definitions from Billy Mernit’s Writing The Romantic Comedy (from Chapter 4):

The Bellamy: This is “the Other Man or Woman, the Wrong Guy or Girl. In the screwball era, Ralph Bellamy was the prime rejected suitor of choice, playing the earnest, stodgy fellow who didn’t get the joke or the girl. Presentable enough in terms of social status, he was neither deep in temperment nor desirable in appearance, and he was usually saddled with a profession that screamed boredom.” (Think of Bill Pullman’s character in Sleepless in Seattle or Greg Kinnear in You’ve Got Mail.) “Solid and dependable, Bellamy represents the qualities his heroines have been unable to secure in their desired heroines. . . . But at the same time, Bellamy’s personality is no match for his female’s lead. . . . The Bellamy has a dual function: while presenting a conceivable alternative to the romantic [lead] (and thus becoming an obstacle to the central romance) this supporting character helps define who the protagonist is and isn’t.” He is “the epitome of ‘settling.'”

A Bellamy can also be a woman playing off the hero as he learns what he is really looking for in a woman.

The Buddy: “The best friend of your leading man/woman acts as a kind of characterization mirror.” Going back to the example of Sleepless in Seattle, think of Rosie O’Donnell and Rob Reiner. These two characters serve as “confidants who reflect their chums’ respective concerns and issues, defining and assessing them.”

Buddies help deliver exposition, help move the story forward, look out for the hero/heroine’s best interests, can seriously gum up the works, can propel the hero/heroine toward each other, and, most importantly, can nudge the hero/heroine toward “self-awareness.”

There are dangers in using both of these characters, however, the primary one being familiarity/stereotype. Think about every romantic comedy movie you’ve ever watched and you can pick out these characters. I named two Bellamys from two different Meg Ryan/Tom Hanks movies — how different was the Bill Pullman/Greg Kinnear role in each? How similar?

The Bellamy and the Buddy both should have a “specific role in the plot’s development.” They need to have a good reason to exist.

In shorter novels, you can double-up these roles in one character. Mernit points out the character of Fiona in Four Weddings and a Funeral — Fiona is a long-time friend of Charles (Hugh Grant), and yet when at the wedding of the woman he’s in love with, Fiona admits her feelings for Charles — fulfilling the role of both Buddy and Bellamy.

In Happy Endings Inc., I have used the Buddy characters for both hero and heroine — both of whom happen to be my heroine’s cousins. I also have a minor Bellamy.

Meredith serves as Buddy for the heroine Anne. She is Anne’s voice of reason when Anne’s emotions are too overwhelming. She is Anne’s sounding board when Anne needs someone to talk to. And she is the one who points out Anne’s need to resolve issues from her past before she can go on with her relationship with the hero.

Forbes serves as Buddy for the hero George. Aside from being one of George’s only friends in this new city, Forbes, in a somewhat manipulative way, arranges the development of Anne and George’s relationship. He also serves as Buddy for Anne, because it is he, in the end, who propels her toward the resolution of the conflict that has separated her from George.

My Bellamy is relatively minor (in this novel, anyway . . . he gets his own chance at love in the sequel). Major O’Hara is a friend from her past who has harbored long-time feelings for her, yet never acted upon them. When Anne believes George is unattainable and then later that he has lied to her, she turns to Major thinking she could possibly make a relationship between the two of them work. Major, however, sees she is in love with someone else and switches from Bellamy to Buddy by turning Anne back toward George.

Who are your characters’ Buddies and/or Bellamys?

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