helpers, secondary charactersSeveral weeks ago, a horrible tragedy happened in Boston, Massachusetts during the Boston Marathon. Two angry brothers put homemade bombs near the finish line where they detonated killing, maiming and injuring many innocent people.

Within hours, Mr. Rogers’ quote about “helpers” was all over social media. Mr. Rogers said that his mom always told him when you see tragedy on the news to look for the helpers, those people who run TO the tragedy to help out. His mom was a wise woman because she’s right. People always go to help. It’s part of human nature, to help people who need it.

As we pray for the victims of the real life tragedy, it helps to remember that tragedy brings out the best in people; heroes emerge; stories happen. Real life teaches that we need to look at the helpers, at the love and kindness they offer, and that helps to deal with the pain of the tragedy.

In our stories, we often pile tragedy on our main characters, but we also need to think about how people come to their rescue. These are secondary characters who help, and our main characters may not accept or want the help, but think about it. How can you offer help to your main character? Who are your helpers? What can they offer?

Remember that every story has its helpers. It’s the helpers that get us through the real life tragedies, and its often the “helper” characters who are the most interesting. Think of the drunk Haymitch Abernathy in Hunger Games, Hagrid in Harry Potter, the dwarf in Libba Bray’s Going Bovine, or any of the best friends in John Green or Sarah Dessen novels. In some cases, like John Green’s Paper Towns, the entire story is told from the “helper’s” perspective.

The characters not only “help” the main characters, but they also push the main characters to achieve their goals. The helpers also often have their own goals and aspirations, along with some interesting characteristics. They’re giants, dwarfs, drunks, socially inept, awkward, or clueless. In “official” writing terms, these people are referred to as secondary characters, but I like thinking of them as helpers. Their role is to “help” the main character and to “help” the story move along.

Spend a few minutes free writing about one of your “helper” characters. What characteristics can you give them? How do they help? Are they necessary to the story? What would happen if you told the entire story from their perspective?

Then, I hope you’ll join me in saying a prayer for both the victims and the helpers of the tragedy in Boston.