Teneice Durrant, creator of Tarot with Ten, will use various tarot and oracle decks to provide monthly readings for writers, with exercises on using imagery and intuition as prompts. December’s prompt is all about developing a secondary character to interact with and challenge your main character.
Writing secondary characters
Welcome to the last On Deck of 2023—can you believe we’ve been doing these posts for a year already?
For December, we’re going to be exploring a character who is very important to the plot and the story that you are writing, and that is the secondary character. Sometimes we use this character in the B story (the storyline running parallel to the main plot), but we could also call this person the supporting actor in the story. Think Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger to your Harry Potter, Sam to your Frodo, the Scarecrow to your Dorothy. These characters are crucial to helping the main character develop.
Secondary character don’t necessarily lead to a love story; these characters can be best friends or relatives or even friendly rivals. Secondary characters are also distinct from the antagonist—the Draco Malfoy, for example, somebody who factors into the main character’s journey by providing them with an impetus to overcome their internal struggles. Generally, the secondary character is a friendlier presence, somebody who perhaps knows more about something than the main character and is willing to teach them. Their main purpose in the story is to help the protagonist realize and overcome their flaws.
Developing a secondary character, then, also requires developing a bit of backstory, so the reader can understand the relationship between these two characters.
Tarot reading for developing secondary characters and backstory
We're going to pick three cards that will help us start to develop an identity or backstory in relation to the main character. The first card we will pull is about how these two meet. The second card will be about the characteristic of this secondary character that complements the main character, and then the third card will illuminate the characteristic in the secondary character that challenges the main character. As always, these images are from the Rider Waite tarot deck, via Pixabay (Creative Commons license), and you can flip through all cards from this reading here:
The card that we have for how these two meet is the Strength card, and this is also the Leo card, if you’re into astrology. The Strength card represents grace through patience and self-control—i.e., taming the proverbial beast with kindness, not with force. This could be a situation where the main character had a very troubled childhood or adolescence. Perhaps when they were young, they got into a lot of trouble, and the secondary character was a teacher or an older cousin who helped them and taught them how to control themselves. Remember: Strength through grace, not force.
Two of Wands
The characteristic of the secondary character that resonates with the main character is the Two of Wands. The Two of Wands is about realizing that no matter how far you go, there is more to explore. It's like having the whole world out in front of you, and you just have to start on that journey. Perhaps both characters like to travel, or they're the best at what they do. Maybe they start a business together and achieve all their goals.
Four of Swords
The characteristic of the secondary character that is in contrast to, but also instructive for, the main character is the Four of Swords. The Four of Swords represents relaxation, meditation, and healing from wounds. Rest and recovery. Instead of pushing themselves to burn out or lashing out at everyone else when they are frustrated or tired, the secondary character knows when to take a bubble bath or a day off to meditate or see their therapist. This self-awareness could be a quality that the secondary character has that your main character maybe just hasn't learned yet, so that's something that the secondary character can teach them. The teaching probably causes some tension or conflict in the beginning; that conflict will be what reveals the character flaws of the main character.
A writing exercise
Sit with the imagery on these three cards. As always, you might start by describing what you see. Keep in mind the kind of character development arc in the symbolism: First, learning through strength and grace, not force; then, an experience of travel or exploration; and finally, the main character learning from the secondary character about what it takes to heal. Perhaps these two characters will experience some conflict through this learning process (the Ron/Harry and Sam/Frodo friendships come back to mind), or perhaps they will be bonded together as they face an external foe while still learning from one another (as with the trio of friends Dorothy makes on her way to the Emerald City). You can apply this dynamic to an existing story or create a new one.
I hope that helped sketch out a little bit of a backstory or a little bit of a guideline as to how the main character and their best bud relate to and challenge one another, how they got together, and what the main character is learning from the secondary character.
Until next month (next year!), here’s how to find me outside of the Center:
YouTube Tarot with Ten
What did you think of this tarot reading and the cards as visual prompts for story development? Share with us in the comments, and contact us if you’re interested in working one-on-one with Teneice in part 3 of Writing Toward Balance and Wholeness: Tarot and the Narrative Arc (taking parts 1 and 2 first is not required).
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