You can start thinking about the main and secondary characters in the same way. They have strengths and flaws, personality traits, physical appearance, etc. But there’s a lot more pressure on a writer to create an engaging main character.
While the main character has to change and grow throughout the story, the secondary characters can just hang out and have fun, appear when they’re needed and disappear when their bit is over.
In a compelling story, the main character cares about something so much he or she will do anything to have it, and writer has to convince the reader that the wanting it is worth it. Secondary characters can care about it too, but it’s not like their world will end if they don’t have it.
One of the strategies for writing a compelling main character is to try to put yourself in the main character’s shoes. Oddly, what this helps me with is bringing to life my secondary characters. In real life, I’m always making observations about other people—their mannerisms, their emotions, their choices. When I create secondary characters, these details emerge naturally in my writing.
But when I’m standing in the main character’s shoes, I have to turn that same lens on myself. Analyze my own (or my main character’s) strengths and weaknesses. It’s so much harder. Especially since that main character is not quite me, but some made up version that is part me/part the-heroine-I’d-like-to-be/part the-person-whose-flaws-create-the-most-conflict.
The part that is me doesn’t really like probing into the sensitive stuff that I’d normally cover up so I don’t have to deal with it. The heroine part wants to…well, be a hero. She doesn’t want to think about her flaws and bad choices. And the flawed part of the character would rather not remind anyone of her shortcomings, even if they do help to create a good story.
All this makes it so difficult for me to create a main character that really comes alive for the reader.
What do you think is your biggest challenge in breathing life into your main character? Do you find it harder to create your main character or your secondary characters?