We need them.
Because they have powers.
They turn a simple story in a good story. They make a fictional world realistic. They make the reader want to know more. If well crafted, they can do great things.
But they also cause more problems than you can imagine.
Yes. I’m talking about minor characters.
Have you ever thought about them while reading a book? Maybe you have but usually I don’t. I am more interested in the protagonist’s story but what would happen to that interesting and absorbing novel without the minor characters? Would it still be so interesting and absorbing?
No, we can’t do without them.
So what’s the problem?
Well… it takes a certain amount of skill to create believable minor characters, who don’t grab the spotlight from the leading hero but also who are not only stereotypes.
Unfortunately I don’t think there’s just one magical recipe that works for everyone but I can tell you how I deal with these insidious friends.
I treat them as main characters. This usually put them in high spirits.
When I plan a minor character I consider his story as one with a life of its own, one that should have its own novel. I begin with asking myself basic questions about the character: his name, his age, his job and, of course, what kind of relationship he has with the hero. Then I try to figure out his story, what brought him into the tale, what his family looks like, how he would behave in this or that situation…
In the end I have a complete idea about that person even if I don’t know how many of those pieces of information will actually end up into the story.
While I was preparing for Camp NaNoWriMo I read a very useful Pep Talk. There was a list of questions to answer in order to get a sort of blueprint of a character. It was clearly thought for main characters, because the questions were very detailed, but I decided to use some of those questions for (forgive me the pun) the main minor characters.
This is an example…
Age: 65 (date of birth 3/4/2169)
Height: 1,78 m
Appearance: he is not too tall, his body is lean, typical of someone who has been doing sport for all of his life. He is not handsome but he is very elegant and classy.
Specific marks: he wears a pair of glasses with a thick black frame.
Favourite attire: his favourite clothes are the Agency’s dark green uniform.
Where does he live?: since he is the chief of the European section of the Agency, he has a special apartment at the central level of the Centre.
How does the place where he lives looks like?: his apartment at the Centre is elegant and refined, the furniture is masculine and functional, with clean lines.
Typical gestures: he usually wrinkle his nose to adjust his glasses.
Things he wants to change in his appearance: he would like to have back his dark hair, but refuses to colour his grey hair.
Way he talks: he is direct and talks without beating about the bush. That’s why he has many problems when he needs to use indirect words to convince someone.
Obsessions: he is meticulous in the scheduling of missions.
Best memory: his best memory is the graduation day at the Training Academy when, despite a lot of detractors, he graduated at the top of his class.
Hobby: he loves gardening, that’s why his apartment at the Centre is full of flower pots.
Special abilities: he has a great intuition with people, because he really understands the value of people.
Insecurities: he is insecure in relationships with women; the only situation in which he is comfortable with women is at work.
Queerness: he talks with his plants.
Temperament: he is pragmatic and realist.
Negative traits: it’s rare that he gets mad, but when it happens his anger becomes destructive.
Things that upset him: he is upset by who disturb the order, because he likes peace.
Things that embarrassed him: his sister, because she is really different from him. A couple of centuries before she could have been called a hippy.
Opinionated about: he knows everything about the Agency and its history.
Phobias: he is slightly claustrophobic, that’s why he doesn’t take elevators if he can avoid it.
Things that make him happy: doing his job is the thing that makes him really happy, but he also love to take care of his garden.
Family: his parents are dead but he still have a sister, Marla, who teaches meditation to rich and bored ladies.
… and I could go on but I don’t want to bore you. I think you got my point by now. This character has a very important relationship with my heroine but appears only in a few scenes, anyway I perfectly know his story.
Probably it seems a lot of work for nothing, but it’s the best way to deal with minor characters I found… for now.
What’s yours? I can’t wait to know, if you want to share!
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