characters / Guest blogs and bloggers

Handling Secondary Characters in a Series

I haven’t written about secondary characters in a long time, maybe never! Thankfully, Debra Purdy Kong, author of the exciting Casey Holland Mysteries series and webmaster for Mystery Deb, has some great ideas on them.  In this article, she covers how to sketch them out (with an Excel spreadsheet), how to make them memorable, and how to keep them relevant.

I am so excited to host Debra here on WordDreams!

Handling Secondary Characters in a Series

My Casey Holland mystery series is set at Casey’s workplace, Mainland Public Transport. This fictional bus company has about 100 employees which provides opportunities to introduce a wide range of characters. Casey is a transit security officer, who often rides the buses dealing with harassment and smaller types of crime that either turn into or merge with more serious crimes. The company’s security department has only five staff plus Casey’s supervisor, Stan. Her love interest, Lou, is a bus driver, and needless to say she works with many drivers through her job.

It’s always a challenge not to include too many characters in each book, and to make the ones I’ve introduced memorable. Every character serves a purpose in the stories. Stan, Lou, Casey’s teenage ward Summer, and her coworker Marie, are regulars. Lou introduces Casey’s more loving, vulnerable side. Stan assigns her different cases and offers either support or warnings, depending on the dilemma. Marie is the antagonist who pushes Casey’s buttons and forces her to view things in a different way, and Summer challenges Casey’s parenting skills and emotional well-being. She can be both an antagonist or a moral compass, depending on the situation.

Other work colleagues come and go, as does Casey’s best friend, Kendal. By the time I’d finished the third book, The Bleak New Moon, and had started to outline the fourth, I realized I needed a better way of keeping the characters and events straight than the scribbled notes I’d been relying on.

Using an Excel spreadsheet was the simplest way to do this. The top of each column names the book, time period, as well as Casey’s and Summer’s ages. Each row lists a plot summary, key themes, repeat characters, and so forth.

Every story introduces at least an one employee readers haven’t met before, but I also like to bring others back. While planning the next book, the question is which character should return and why? Again, this depends on the plot and subplots that unfold.

There are times when I kill off an MPT character right away, as I did in the second installment, Deadly Accusations, or I’ll have an employee quit the company. Others might play a pivotal role in one story, but won’t be seen again for three or four books.

In the sixth and latest installment, The Blade Man, I brought back bus driver Benny Lee. Benny’s an older driver readers meet on page one in the first book, The Opposite of Dark. He has a minor appearance there, but in book six Benny’s role becomes pivotal when he’s stabbed on the job one night. Coworkers’ fear and empathy for Benny is evident throughout the book and makes them aware that even a calm and experienced employee can be blindsided by violence. Solving the crime also motivates Casey to go above and beyond to protect those she deeply cares for.

After six books, I find myself referring to the Excel sheet more often and will depend on it for future decision making. One thing I do know is that I’ll never kill off favorite characters, although I just might retire one or two.

Debra’s Bio:

Debra Purdy Kong’s volunteer experiences, criminology diploma, and various jobs, inspired her to write mysteries set in BC’s Lower Mainland. Her employment as a campus security patrol and communications officer provide the background for her Casey Holland transit security novels.

Debra has published short stories in a variety of genres as well as personal essays, and articles for publications such as Chicken Soup for the Bride’s Soul, B.C. Parent Magazine, and The Vancouver Sun. She is a facilitator for the Creative Writing Program through Port Moody Recreation, and a long-time member of Crime Writers of Canada. More information about Debra and her books, can be found at or contact her at

Book Blurb for The Blade Man:

Who is the Blade Man and why has this mysterious loner been attacking Mainland Public Transport bus drivers? And who is trying to burn MPT down? The company’s president suspects an inside job and orders security officer Casey Holland to launch an internal investigation or face termination.

Convinced that she’s being set up to fail, Casey feels the pressure. With her and Lou’s wedding only weeks away, Casey desperately needs answers, but anger at work and on the streets thwart her efforts. Nor do the police welcome her help.

More employees are attacked, and the president forces Casey to take deeper risks. But how much is too much? How far must she go before facing off with him and MPT’s enemies? Find out in this explosive sixth installment of Casey Holland transit mysteries.


The National Post – “Kong’s writing is no-nonsense at best . . . the end result is a mystery that fits the bill.”

The Hamilton Spectator –  “A good read with urban grit and a spicy climax.”

Quill & Quire – “The novel’s short, punchy chapters whisk the story along to a thrilling climax, while the characters’ relationships and rivalries provided a strong emotional anchor.”

ON SALE FOR $.99 UNTIL JUNE 25TH! THE OPPOSITE OF DARK, Casey Holland Mystery #1



Apple Books:

Links to The Blade Man:



Apple books:

Connect With Debra at:


WordPress blog:



Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and the Man vs. Nature saga. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, blog webmaster, an Amazon Vine Voice,  a columnist for NEA Today, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, Against All Odds, Summer 2020. You can find her tech ed books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning


73 thoughts on “Handling Secondary Characters in a Series

  1. Very important. Yesterday I saw Shakuntala Devi, a Hindi movie on the life of a renowned female mathematician of the name. When she was young, she was shown to have an elder brother who first identified her genius. Thereafter, she developed an antagonistic relationship with her parents. But the brother never reappeared. Left a feeling of lack of closure when the movie ended. Hence, supporting characters need to be sketched out adequately too.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think Debra Purdy Kong’s use of a spreadsheet to track characters and other story details is brilliant, especially for a series where many secondary characters may have parts in some stories but not others. I know you, Jacqui, also use spreadsheets to track every aspect of your books. Spreadsheets are not for me but I do keep extensive notes in Word files that make it easy for me track my characters and other details.
    You two writers are especially organized and prolific. Best wishes on all endeavors.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Sharon, and thanks for your kind words. Staying organized requires a fair bit of work as more books are written, but it’s worth the effort. Word files work for me too, especially when I need to compile detailed profiles for characters, and add things to bring out in different books.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. After reading your post, Jacqui, on using spread sheets and seeing how Debra uses it to keep track of her characters, I’m beginning to think I should give it a go. There’s so much stuff to learn and now with WordPress coming out with their new editor as well. Writing is a lot more than just writing. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Interesting to see the spreadsheet in use this way. I’ve only just begun to use spreadsheets like this. I always thought they were more for mathematical records and functions, of which I don’t have much use.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I did too but found I enjoyed their tabbed interface, where I could collect lots of ideas into something like a notebook. Besides the plot spreadsheet, I have one for characters, a timeline, and overall plotting (themes, subplots, etc.)

      Liked by 1 person

      • It’s pretty amazing how you use it. Have you compared your use to what Scrivener offers? I tried Scrivener once and maybe would have continued but it was only downloadable to one computer and I lost everything when my computer died. It was frustrating to lose all the work so I didn’t try it again. I was sorry I hadn’t done it in Word, as usual.

        Liked by 1 person

    • I used to think the same, thing Nora, but through my day job, I found that they had other uses, so I began to play around with Excel sheets at home. The benefits of inserting columns and rows and using wrap text sold me on the idea of using them for quick notes.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Your books sound interesting, Debra, I’ll have to check them out. I don’t use a spreadsheet but have come to count on Microsoft’s OneNote program which operates much like a filing cabinet. It allows me to make folders for each book and add pages for the characters, background, etc.
    Enjoyed this post!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Jacquie, and what a great idea with OneNote. I confess that I still print out a lot of typewritten notes when I’m preparing deeper character development. There are times when I don’t want to work at the computer, so I use a good old file folder with paperclipped notes 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Hi Jacqui and Debra – I’m sure her tips and ideas will help many … I just think I couldn’t cope – but as you’ve told me … it’s either there or not – I’m happy writing, just not novels. Take care both of you – and all the best – Hilary

    Liked by 2 people

    • You’re absolutely right, Hilary. Spread sheets aren’t for everyone and there are certainly writers who prefer other methods. Because I’ve had to use spreadsheets so often through my day job, I feel really comfortable with them. If I hadn’t used them regularly at work, I’m not sure if I would have tried them on my own!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Isn’t that the beauty of writing? There are so many genres. You are great at blogging (a genre I covered under B). I always learn a lot from your posts in a short period of time, with text and images.


  7. Interesting that Diana Peach likes the spreadsheet and Pam Wight doesn’t particularly. I’m somewhere in the middle, making up my own grid on a huge sheet of paper. I can see the value of having the main points written down for future reference in a series.

    Liked by 2 people

    • That works too! There are many methods and as long as you find what works for you, that’s good. I also keep notes in a Word document when I need more details about secondary characters. Spreadsheets can’t do everything I need!

      Liked by 2 people

      • Yes, all sorts of ways, as long as I write something down. I panic when I don’t remember what I said about some feature earlier on in the book, and maybe put down the wrong eye colour (or some such thing) near the end.

        Liked by 2 people

  8. I like Debra’s spreadsheet to keep track of characters over a series. (You already know I’m a spreadsheet fan, lol). I write my series all at once, so I don’t have too much trouble keeping track of where secondary characters are, but I can definitely see the value in this if I was writing one book at a time. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Secondary characters can make or break a book. I like the way Debra tracks hers. I’m not a “spreadsheet” writer, but I definitely can/should do a better job of organizing where/what my secondary characters are “made up of.” Great post.

    Liked by 2 people

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