Thursday, December 05, 2013

Guest Blog by J. Kathleen Cheney - Secondary Characters - December 5, 2013

Please welcome J. Kathleen Cheney to The Qwillery as part of the 2013 Debut Author Challenge Guest Blogs. The Golden City was published by Roc on November 5, 2013. You may read an interview with Ms. Cheney here.

Secondary Characters

       When readers pick up a book, the writer hopes their imagination is captured by the story of the main characters. The readers follow them along with the story's narrative, learn what they're thinking, and get told the outcome of their adventures. They're who the story's about, after all.

       But sometimes when I read, I find myself just as interested in one of the secondary characters. They may never get the POV job, so we may never see how they think about their world, but it's interesting to imagine what's going on inside their heads. So whenever I'm writing secondary characters, I want them to be as interesting as possible.

       Given, there are characters who merely come in to one scene, drop some information, carry out one little action, or reveal some backstory…and then disappear. But there are others who stick around, making little appearances, and constantly filling in those group scenes. And for those, I always wonder who and what they are.

       As the writer, I have to know.

       I was recently discussing this with another writer who felt guilty. She was writing some backstory scenes for her characters, delineating how they all met. Those scenes would never make it into her book, so why was she spending time writing them out? I understood completely, though. I do that, too. By sitting down and writing it out, we gain a clearer understanding of who those characters are. We have a better chance of knowing why they're in that group shot in the first place.

       In my recent book, one of the characters with a complex backstory, Alessio, is dead at the outset of the book. His death is what provokes his brother Duilio to return home. And while Duilio thinks he knows why his brother died, it turns out he was wrong. In addition, he finds himself dealing with his brother's lovers who fear that Duilio will reveal salacious details about their affairs with Alessio.

       As the writer, I have to know everything about Alessio: I have to know why he had so many lovers, why he wrote it down, and what he was doing that ultimately got him killed. I have to know his political beliefs, his relationship to the Church and to the Monarchy, how he feels about his family. All of that is involved in what brought about his death…and set up the rest of the story.

       So I do write out scenes that will never see publication. I joked with that other writer that I'm writing fan-fic about my own characters, because I'm exploring parts of the story that won't make it into any book (which is, more or less, what writers of fan-fic are doing.) But I think that understanding the characters (even the secondary ones) helps the writer make them more real for the reader.

       And sometime those secondary people become our favorites. Is there a secondary character that you find more intriguing than any of the main characters in their books?

The Golden City

The Golden City
Roc, November 5, 2013
Trade Paperback and eBook, 384 pages

For two years, Oriana Paredes has been a spy among the social elite of the Golden City, reporting back to her people, the sereia, sea folk banned from the city’s shores....

When her employer and only confidante decides to elope, Oriana agrees to accompany her to Paris. But before they can depart, the two women are abducted and left to drown. Trapped beneath the waves, Oriana’s heritage allows her to survive while she is forced to watch her only friend die.

Vowing vengeance, Oriana crosses paths with Duilio Ferreira—a police consultant who has been investigating the disappearance of a string of servants from the city’s wealthiest homes. Duilio also has a secret: He is a seer and his gifts have led him to Oriana.

Bound by their secrets, not trusting each other completely yet having no choice but to work together, Oriana and Duilio must expose a twisted plot of magic so dark that it could cause the very fabric of history to come undone....

About J. Kathleen Cheney

J. Kathleen Cheney is a former teacher and has taught mathematics ranging from 7th grade to Calculus, with a brief stint as a Gifted and Talented Specialist. Her short fiction has been published in Jim Baen's Universe, Writers of the Future, and Fantasy Magazine, among others, and her novella "Iron Shoes" was a 2010 Nebula Award Finalist. Her novel, "The Golden City" will come out from Penguin, November 5, 2013.

Her website can be found at

Twitter @jkcheney  ~  Facebook  ~  Tumblr


  1. I love secondary characters, both as a reader and a creator! (So much so, I sometimes upgrade them to main characters in other projects, haha.) I agree, it's good to explore their backstory, even if no one else will ever see it. All characters are worth fleshing out, after all, no matter how small!

  2. Aha! I can answer this while in Chrome! I upgrade to other projects, too....because they are worth fleshing out ;o)