Perhaps one of the greatest challenges a writer faces is creating memorable characters, avoiding stereotypes and clichés along the way. For me, the best formula for an addictive story is a relatable main character and an unfathomable secondary character. Not quite, but almost.
The supporting role in a novel or screenplay gets to be everything the main character isn’t—and probably wishes she were. She’s Rhoda to Mary Tyler Moore or Kramer to Jerry.
He’s not just a doctor who runs an orphanage, (The Cider House Rules) but he also performs abortions and is addicted to ether. He’s not just a kid brother, (Beach Music) he’s also a gun-toting, paranoid schizophrenic who stops traffic on the town bridge and makes his brothers strip naked and jump over the side. Almost too crazy to believe!
Remember rifle-wielding Ruby Thewes in Cold Mountain? Had she been meek and mild, would Renée Zellweger have won an Oscar for her performance? Probably not.
The trick in creating an outlandish sidekick, kid sister, co-worker or man-down-the-hall is not allowing them to overshadow your main character. If Penélope Cruz (as Maria Elena) had shown up in the first scene of Vicky Cristina Barcelona, the movie would have been renamed. Just like habaneros in salsa, a little goes a long way.
So, when it comes to creating memorable characters, let your main characters establish the story and devote limited scenes to your more colorful, crazed supporting roles, lest they take over the manuscript and start demanding their own book or movie. Sequel, anyone?
Now, you tell me: What secondary character from a novel or screenplay put the kick in your salsa, sending you scrambling for a cold beer?