WEDNESDAY WRITING TIP: The Minor Character

Posted: June 23, 2010 in Uncategorized

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Interesting minor characters can give a book a well rounded feel.

Just like life, people can make the difference in terms of color, humor and diversity.

But don’t make the mistake of making your minor characters too interesting.

The minor characters should be interesting in proportion to their prominence in the book. If they’re made too interesting the reader will be disappointed when they don’t figure in the ending, when they don’t get more face time or when they don’t develop.

Think about it. If the character is that cool why wasn’t he or she featured more? It doesn’t make sense to give these characters fascinating backgrounds and then not write enough about them.

Whether you want to believe it or not, readers cry out for structure in fiction. Part of that structure is having things make sense. A minor character should be minorly interesting.

It’s why some minor characters can be cliched. A cliched minor character barely registers in the mind of the reader. The gruff cab driver, the nervous drug addict or the barely verbal Mafia muscle guy work because you don’t have to think about them.

Make them bigger and the cliche becomes annoying.

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Comments
  1. Jen Forbus says:

    Interesting outlook on minor characters. I guess I’m in Robert Crais’ camp. He says he writes every character with the idea they could have their own stories…which is true, every person has his/her own story. Not all of us end up in the spotlight, but we have our own stories. Joe Pike eventually had his own story, Starkey had her own story FIRST and then became a minor character, and fans have asked if John Chen will have his own story…hell, people even love Cat in the Elvis Cole books. And lord knows we all love to hate Lucy. 😉 I say don’t leave ’em too ambiguous, your protagonist will grow lonely.

  2. L.J. Sellers says:

    Interesting discussion. It seems Jen is talking more about secondary characters, and Tom is talking about minor, or throwaway, characters. In my character data file, I give characters numbers (from 1-5), depending on if they’re major, secondary with POV, secondary without POV, minor recurring, or throwaway. It’s a little anal, but it keeps my series on track.

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