At one of our writers’ group meetings last year, we talked about minor characters, and our discussion has stuck in my mind.
When I create standard minor characters and walk-ons, such as the main character’s best friend, the waitress at the diner, and the car salesman, I look for opportunities to flesh out these characters a little in revision.
The benefits are huge. Not only will you write better fiction, you’ll have more fun doing it. Minor characters can help you to develop your major characters too.
Minor characters can help to develop the big players in your fiction
One of the best reasons I’ve found for boosting minor characters is that they help you to develop your major characters, without a lot of narrative — that is, “telling”.
For example, let’s say that in the first draft of your mystery novel you wrote: Drunk. Bobby was drunk again. When he mocked the waitress at the diner, Jasmine knew that she’d leave him the first chance she got.
You flesh out the waitress in revision: Strands of flyaway blonde hair curtaining her face, the waitress set Bobby’s coffee on the table with care. She looked as tired as Jasmine felt. Suddenly, Bobby threw out his hand, hitting her in the eye. Jasmine caught a glimpse of smudged eyeliner and mascara before the waitress covered her face with her hands.
Drunk. Bobby was drunk again. And he’d done it deliberately. His smirk was confirmation of that.
You’re writing a mystery. Bobby is murdered. Jasmine will be accused of his murder. Bobby’s a pig, so because a reader feels sympathy for Bobby, she’ll feel it for Jasmine too. The extra words we used for the waitress help us to develop both Bobby and Jasmine.
Paying attention to minor characters has benefits
Here are some of the benefits of giving thought to minor characters:
- They make your fiction seem more real;
- You can use them to develop your major characters (Bobby and Jasmine, in the paragraphs above);
- They can show aspects of your major characters. An example: maybe Jasmine realizes that before marrying Bobby, she had warnings — Bobby’s brother ended up in jail;
- They can offer new avenues for plot development…
Why not try to develop your minor characters? It can take just a sentence or three. This small strategy can help to make your fiction more engaging.