Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Writing Tip #13: Minor Characters

This is the last post in the mini-series dealing with the basics of your novel. We've talked about setting and world-building, plots and subplots, and characters. Today is all about minor characters.

Minor characters are to characters like subplots are to plots and like world-building is to setting. Basically what this means is your minor characters (subplots and world building) SUPPORT, EXPAND UPON, and WORK WITH your main characters. How many minor characters do you need? Like subplots: there's no set number. You introduce as many as needed to move your story along.

Now, there are two types of minor characters.

The first is the Important Minor Character. This is the guy who's almost a main character, the one who could steal the show, but the novel is not about him. Think Gandalf, Legolas, and Gimli from Lord of the Rings. Or Snape, Dumbledore, and Bellatrix from Harry Potter. Without these characters there would be something innately missing from the plot. It's why they're also referred to as "supporting characters."

The second is the Throw-away Character. These are the Unnamed characters. The waitress. The bartender. The random elf. The orc. These guys are the folks no one really cares about and are there to populate the stage. They're all those folks in the background on set that everyone kind of looks over. In the credits they're: woman with baby, security guard #1, Dead guy #3, Cheerleader.

What's the difference? Important Minor Characters need a backstory similar to your Main Character's. You're going to want to know what motivates them to help (or hinder) the main character, how they became who they are today, and what role they play in your story. They'll need a name and a purpose. They might even evolve into a Main Character in later books and you can bet they'll become a fan favorite if you work them right.

The Throw-Away character needs nothing. They don't even need a description or a name. They are the waitress who gives your Main Character and your Important Minor Character their coffee. They are the woman your Main Character has to walk around because she's stopped in the middle of the side-walk to text. They're the body count.

Throw-Away Characters CAN evolve into Important Minor Characters over the course of a series (I'm looking at you David Jones and Maverick). Important Minor Characters can become a Main Character (I'm looking at you Tenkondin and Sable). The reverse can also happen. A Main Character can become an Important Minor Character (...sorry Dyns) or even a Throw-Away Character.

A word of advice: don't make Cashier #1 some secret spy of the villain for the sake of *GASP! PLOT TWIST!* The ONLY way you can do it is if she's appearing more than once, always makes a point of serving the Main Character or acts suspicious in such a way your Main Character starts to notice.

Remember, your Minor Characters are there to do a job: SUPPORT YOUR MAIN. Or HINDER YOUR MAIN. They are there to cause subplots, conflict, and help your world-building. They might even steal the show or provoke a spin off. And if you're really good they might get a bigger following than some of the other minor characters even if they only appear in five chapters of 100+ story (I'm looking at you Matt).

Use your Minor Characters as they're intended to be used. You don't need to do an extensive back story on every one and no, not everyone needs a name. They can be "the waiter" or "the secretary" or "the bartender" during the course of the story. Don't feel bad about randomly killing off "Bank Teller #1." She is a device to move along the plot. That's all. Put up a grave and keep moving.

Until next time: thoughts, comments, rages, rants, questions, and out-right insults can be directed to the comments section.

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