In a world of main characters, few are the protagonists who know how to play right the secondary roles
BY ESTEBAN G VILLANUEVA
Society has imprinted in us the concept of being the main character. Especially in modern times, the propaganda around honing one’s main character energy is as powerful as ever. After all, who doesn’t want to be the hero of the story?
Regardless, what society has failed to showcase is the magic, allure, importance and relevance of secondary characters. And here’s the thing, while we all are main characters in our own stories, we’re secondary characters in hundreds, if not thousands, of other’s tales.
Now, as for secondary characters, being (a good) one is harder than one thinks; even when we’re constantly surrounded by proper examples of elite secondary character behavior. We all know them — an aunt or uncle, who saved us from family matters and thought us alternate ways to live; an unknowing mentor, who guided us and showed us the ropes of our trade; a friend, who consoled us when a broken heart shot us down; a neighbor, who held the door open when we were carrying in too many things; a coworker, who saved us a chair in the morning meeting; a random stranger, who did a random act that changed for good the course of a random day.
And you see, that’s the difference between being good secondary characters and just being bystanders in other’s stories.
When we look back at heroic, iconic, and legendary main character storylines, most (if not every time) we’ll find that the end result was possible thanks to a small, yet pivotal, interaction, action, or “help” from someone, perhaps random, in the main character’s story. A small gesture, a casual comment, a quick errand created a whole new storyline where the happy ending was possible. Some might call it the Butterfly Effect, others might call it destiny, some might call it fate, but either way, it was changed due to a small act, played by a small character, in a secondary role.
As for the act itself, much like moral, the nature or intention of the act is relative and in most scenarios has no ulterior, grander, or bigger motive behind the natural course of action one would naturally take. If something were to be done with ill intention or knowing that it will facilitate the main character’s quest we’re entering villain and fairy godmother character territory — a tale for another time.
For secondary characters' sake, the essence of the act and decision to do whatever action is meant to be made is partially related to the short impact or relevance in the secondary character’s life the action itself has. Holding the door open, catching the dog who broke loose from their leash, hailing a cab for that person who has no free hands. Very much Christmas movie meet-cute moment — but without the developing storyline after.
These are characters that we might only see once and never again, characters that are only around for seasonal happenings, characters that will be revisited only in very specific scenarios. No matter that, without them, the story would not be the same.
Now, back to the main concept (ironically), if what one wishes is to be a good secondary character, there is only one thing one can do: care. Care enough to wait one second, and hold open the door; care enough to react, and catch the dog; care enough to stop walking, and hail the cab.
What takes us one moment, one action, one nothing, might just be what the main character of another story needed to succeed.