Which secondary character deserves a novel of their own?

Some minor characters are so interesting they make you wish for a book that revolves entirely around them.

One of my favorite examples of this is “Wide Sargasso Sea” (1966). Jean Rhys tells the story of Bertha, the first wife of Mr. Rochester in “Jane Eyre”, the woman he keeps imprisoned in the attic. According to Rochester, she is insane. Jean Rhys shows her as a lively, sensitive young woman broken by a loveless marriage.

“The Testaments” (2019) by Margaret Atwood takes us back to Gilead, the Christian fundamentalist dictatorship from “The Handmaid’s Tale” (1984). But this time, we get the story from the perspective of Aunt Lydia, the antagonist of “The Handmaid’s Tale”. :old_key:

You can pluck a character from the margins and push them into the limelight to reveal something that lurks just below the surface in the original novel, like British colonial rule in “Jane Eyre”. Or to show a familiar setting in a new light and thereby make it more complex and real. I like this a lot.

Whose story do you think needs its own book?

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Actually, I find that retelling the same story from a different perspective or adding peripheral stories about side characters etc. is something that is overdone at the moment. It seems like for every successful book or series, there are prequels and side stories like this now. (Twilight, 50 Shades, Hunger Games etc.) and a lot of other successful books are retellings of classics or folk tales (A Court of Thornes and Roses, Bridget Jones Diaries …) And it’s not just books. Most movies and TV series seem to be mostly remakes or extensions of established franchises nowadays.

I know it is next to impossible to come up with new original stories. It seems that every story under the sun has already been told. But it still feels like a marketing scam to me when authors and other creators simply jump onto something that has been successful before and extend it, instead of coming up with new original stories and characters. It’s almost like creators are afraid of trying new things and instead just reuse and recycle.

Sorry for the rant. I get that this is probably not what you were going for with this question. And “Wide Sargasso Sea” is a fantastic story in its own right and stems from a time when this idea of taking a character from a classic and doing something with them was in itself a new and rather original idea. But as much as I love characters like Eowyn from the Lord of the Rings or Mylady de Winter from the Three Musceteers for example, I don’t need a retelling (or prequel or other extension of the original story) from their perspective.

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On re-reading your original post, @elisabeth , the term ‘second lead syndrome’ popped into my head :smiley: That’s when a side character seems more appealing than the actual main character. I’ve always wished Alan Rickman had been given more screen time as Snape as I felt he should have been able to reveal his tragically heroic story more. But first of all, that’s probably because he had such a fantastic presence as an actor :star_struck:

In writing, the idea of making a side character the hero of a new story shows to me this character was well laid out as a three-dimensional figure. That’s something to strive for, I’d say. The best way to get there is by telling myself little side stories about the character – which is half-way to writing a whole new adventure for them, isn’t it?

Some prefer stand-alone books over series, so I guess it’s not for everyone. Personally, once I’ve found a story universe I enjoyed very much, I like to find out what happens next around this place. And if the story of the main character is all told, why not find out about other characters in their vicinity? As a reader it’s like coming home to a well-loved neighborhood. As a writer I get to explore my world more deeply, and connected stories may become richer this way. One book is just too little space to give all these characters the space to unfold as they deserve.


Ah, there’s a word for it! I recently rewatched “Girl, Interrupted” and was surprised because all these years I had been sure that Angelina Jolie’s character was the lead. But she’s not! She’s just a well-developed side character played by a very charismatic actress! Clear case of second lead syndrome.

I absolutely second what you said about fictional universes: Once I’ve made myself at home, so to speak, I want to know everything about everyone, and I’m heartbroken when the world stops expanding because the author has died, moved on or takes more than a decade to write the perfect sixth installment of a series I enjoyed.

(My gratefulness outweighs the sadness though. We’re lucky we get to experience immersive fictional worlds through literature.)

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While I abjectly consume every extension of a universe I love, I would like to see more resources go to the creation of new universes. In the publishing as well as the movie industry, people like secure investments. And the 4th (5th? 6th?) “50 Shades” book guarantees some returns while a new, exciting and probably better book by an unknown author is a risk.

There are retellings that illuminate a work of fiction and open it up for discussion while being enjoyable even if you don’t know the original work at all. And there are retellings that someone wrote because their publisher asked them to, books that neither add anything substantial to the original work nor stand on their own very well.

I’m not sure if every story has been told. On the one hand, I remember a conversation with a friend 20 years ago: She stated the same thing. How many fantastic new stories have been written since then? Maybe the notion that there’s nothing new under the sun is as old as storytelling itself. On the other hand, we’ve seen a media explosion no one else in the history of humankind has witnessed before, so for us, this realization … hits differently. What do you think?


That’s definitely true. And I think, something like “Bridget Jones’ Diary” can introduce a younger generation to a classic story they otherwise would have missed. And “Hyperion” by Dan Simmons, a retelling of the Canterbury Tales in a SciFi setting, is downright genius. I think it’s more the writing to trends that’s the problem here (and retellings are very trendy at the moment, especially in YA … Jane Eyre in space, Cinderella in Hongkong … I’ve pretty much seen it all by now).

I once read a book about screen writing that claimed that there are, in essence, only two stories … “somebody goes on a journey” or “a stranger comes to town”. And while it is true that many if not all stories fall in either one of those categories, especially if you allow for metaphor, that does not mean all those stories are the same.

But it is also true that the more stories you consume, be it through reading or through movies, TV, computer games etc. the rarer it becomes that one story truly stands out. I remember talking about this with my dad when I was just a teenager. He had this annoying quirk to always predict the end of movies we were watching together. And he was always right. Because while the character names (and to a certain extend genders, cultural backgrounds etc. things we do put a lot of relevance on nowadays) and the setting changed, the underlying plots were pretty similar and predictable. Like, once certain hints had been given and certain building blocks were in place, there was only one way the story could go. So even though those movies were fantastic and new and exotic and exciting to me, they were pretty same-old, same-old for my dad. And I guess you could go back through generations and centuries and find the same notion again and again. How many people watched Shakespeare’s plays in the Globe theatre and commented that he just retold stories they already knew?


I guess I’m guilty of the same :slight_smile:, but mostly with TV or cinema movies, less so with series. Which brings us back to the initial question. With many more distinct characters in place than you could possibly handle in 60 or 120 minutes, there are far more possibilities for twists and turns than if you stick to one or two main characters, and limit side characters to their supporting role.

I find the same is true for stand-alone novels versus book series. While there may be a limited set of possible story structures, variation results from the mix of various characters with different goals and lessons to learn, thrown into all kinds of different settings, and last not least the author’s own underlying set of beliefs. Add in the reader’s own experiences and beliefs, and you end up with a whole different story.

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Well, thank you for the recommendation! This is really intriguing.

Two things of vital interest, in whatever society you live! I will probably be testing this concept on all the books I know in my head until further notice. I wonder if it was the inspiration for the title of “Someone Comes To Town, Someone Leaves Town” by Cory Doctorow – I’m linking to it because the description of the plot is just too wild.


This strikes me as especially important: A huge part of the story is made in each reader’s head. So even two Neanderthals listening to the same story at the same fire would have had different experiences with the narrative. And maybe one of them would remember all the times she’s heard that story before, in so many versions, at so many fires, and sigh.

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I just had a look at the wiki page. I agree. That does sound wild. :rofl: I think I’ll have to read that at some point.

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