Dr. Jakes and the Care and Feeding of Secondary Characters By Diane Chamberlain | August 3, 2009 | 11 One of my favorite characters in my latest novel, Secrets She Left Behind, has no starring role, no point of view and he’s only in the limelight in a few scenes. Yet, he’s one of my all time favorite characters. Maggie Lockwood, on the other hand, does play a starring role, and Dr. Jakes is her psychotherapist. That makes him important, but when I first created him, I had no idea how important he would come to be. Nor did I know how much I would like him. Secondary characters are like that. They sneak up on both writer and reader, sucking us in before we know what’s happened. I fully expected Maggie’s therapist to be a female. I had a private psychotherapy practice myself in my former career as a clinical social worker, and I worked with countless young women Maggie’s age, so I pictured her therapist as a compassionate, empathetic, thirty-something-year-old woman. Imagine my surprise when Maggie arrived for her first appointment and her therapist turned out to be a balding, ‘ancient,’ ‘obscenely fat,’ man wearing ‘ridiculous red, white and blue striped glasses.’ I couldn’t get that female therapist to show up no matter how hard I tried. Maggie was mortified, but my curiosity was peaked. Who was this guy? What was his story? This is where the care and feeding of secondary characters comes into play. Writers need to know them well, even if those bit players don’t have a starring role. To get to know Marion Jakes, I wrote a short autobiography of him in his own words, which is something I always do with characters who are important to a book. Sometimes I’ll reveal things I learn about a secondary character in the course of a story, but in Dr. Jakes’ case, I did not. After all, he has no point of view and he’s a therapist. His story doesn’t count, not in any overt way. He’s there only to help Maggie, and help her he does, in ways she never expected. I’m the writer, though, and I wrote his mini-autobiography, so I’m privvy to his own personal story and how he came to be the man he is. I’m richer for knowing him, and I believe my reader is richer because I know him so well. It was fun for me to create him. I think I was a good therapist, but I would be a much better one now, these many years later. With apologies to all you young therapists out there, wisdom comes with age and there’s no way around it (don’t worry! You too will be old one day). There are elements to Dr. Jakes that I never possessed as a therapist and that I really like in him. Now that I think of it, I may have been working through some of my own issues with him, becoming through him the therapist I would have liked to have been. I guess Maggie was, in some ways, my own client. Well, I had no idea I was going to go off on that tangent when I started this post! That’s very much the way it is when I’m writing a book: I never know where I’m going to end up. That’s also the way it is with secondary characters. You think they’re going to be simple people, easily ignored, but they surprise you when you least expect it. And you’re very, very lucky when they do. Posted in Uncategorized and tagged "Secrets She Left Behind", "Topsail Island", clinical social work, Diane Chamberlain, Fiction, psychotherapy, secondary character, therapist, writing
This is really interesting, Diane. There are so often secondary characters in novels that I wish had a larger role so I could know them better. I really liked Maggie’s therapist, too…especially those glasses! Lol!
I am always surprised by the amount of work you do ‘behind the scenes’ on your books. I never would have thought about writing a mini-bio of him, but I can see how that helped you understand him a lot better. I love how your social work background always seems to sneak up on you when you’re writing. 🙂
I loved Dr. Jakes in SECRETS and wish he could appear in more of your novels. I remember when Maggie first went to see him…his description made me laugh out loud and yet he seemed so real. I love how your mind works Diane, and how these secondary people appear in your books…at times, they seem to be almost as important as your main characters.
I love Dr. Jakes also. I just finished the book last night. My only disappointment was that it ended lol. I loved this one. I can’t wait for Breaking the Silence.
Gunnar is starting to talk now. He’s growing up so fast. His new sayings are all done and up ma. It’s so funny.
I was so looking forward to meeting Dr. Jakes as you built that up in Maggie’s POV. It was a very interesting encounter and I just wanted to shout out to Maggie to talk to him.
You have such a storytelling gift that I forgot that you were in that role once. Then I made that realization and went “WOW”, you must have been one helluva psychotherapist. Absolutely compelling!!! That’s why this guy read your books!
I’m just feel more intellectual posting this 🙂 (Yes ladies, I periodically have those moments. LOL!!!)
I arrived back home again today for almost one week-before I leave again…and then school…college and high school. I am going to get my high school students online to read what you wrote, Diane, about the drafts…they might “listen” to you…
Also-question for you…and the others…why do some authors choose to do the epilogue? Others do not? I love love love it…I want to know what happens “later”…Just read about l0 books from my bookclub…some of my favorite authors…some were really great…others I would like to know who is writing for some of those authors-not you of course. Hope you “readers” and “writers” will comment on the epilogue…
Brenda, I think some books demand an epilogue and others don’t. Plus, some authors probably dislike them, just as some dislike prologues. Also, some readers dislike one or the other or both. I personally like writing epilogues (I just wrote one, as a matter of fact!). Like you, I want to know what happens later.
Brenda, I love reading epilogues and am happy to read Diane just wrote one!!…I’m assuming its to her wip ‘THE LIES WE TOLD’ (-O:
Is your latest book THE LIES WE TOLD???? I have been off the radar so much this summer…I might have known that…glad there is an epilogue…
Brenda, that’s the book I just turned in. Waiting to hear what revisions need to be made.
Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.
Welcome, Sandra. Thanks for saying “hi.”