Our topic this week at the SFF Seven is tertiary characters who demand the spotlight.
It's a funny thing about my brain that the word "tertiary" takes me right back to organic chemistry, and not to writing things at all. As far as chemistry is concerned, tertiary structure is when a chain of proteins (for example) is folded up, with disulfide bonds maybe. Primary structure is the basic molecule, secondary structure is when they get chained up. After the folding of tertiary, you might get bundles clumped together to make quatenary structure.
What about the quatenary characters, I ask you???
Really... does anyone think about tertiary characters? I certainly don't as a reader. I don't even really think in terms of secondary characters. Do you, as a reader?
I suppose secondary characters come into play because most stories focus action on one or two protagonists. It's been an interesting game for those of us watching A Game of Thrones who haven't made it through all the books in A Song of Ice and Fire, to see the story wrapping up to show that the sprawling epic with tons of characters - and protagonists - is about the Stark family in the end. And that Jon Snow may be the protagonist after all. Hard for me to tell how much of that is the show runners refining the story that way, however.
But in most books that aren't multi-tentacled monster fantasy epics, there is one protagonist, maybe two. They are the single molecules upon which everything is built. The secondary characters are part of the world they live in, because no person is an island, so those connections create chains of people.
As we all know, secondary characters in one book often become the protagonists in sequels, and all of you readers are adept at picking out who those people might be. But can you spot the tertiary characters?
If I extend the chemistry analogy, those are secondary characters who get wrapped in and cemented with extra bonds. I think, however, that the suggester of this topic wasn't thinking in those terms. Instead, tertiary must mean to them another rung lower than secondary. But if you have the protagonists, everyone connected to them, then the next rung down is.... bit players? Characters without lines? Pets and livestock?
I frankly don't know, so I'll be interested in what the rest of the gang has to say this week. For my part, I'm a believer in the advice that all characters live full lives that begin long before they walk onto the page and continue after they walk off. Some of the best observations on this come from theater.
But you all tell me, is there a character you've read who you'd regard as tertiary who then became a protagonist?