As novelists, we work hard to breathe life into our main characters. We even work hard to breathe life into our secondary characters.
But what about the minor characters?
The ones that make brief cameos. Perhaps for a scene or two or three. The ones that have no significant impact on the story. The ones that are simply filler.
Like the hostess who sits your protagonist at the restaurant.
Or the police officer who pulls your hero over for speeding.
Or the delivery guy who brings your heroine flowers.
Or the doctor who delivers the hard news to your main character.
I don’t know about you, but I find it incredibly tempting to throw a stereotype on the page and leave it at that.
Especially after all the energy I expend at making my important characters dimensional.
Recently, however, I’ve been challenged. To avoid the easy cliche and bring these characters to life.
While speaking with my editor last week, she said something like this: If it’s easy for a reader to replace the minor character with an actor or an actress or a character from a movie or a TV show, then you haven’t made the character your own.
Even though this is one of the more minor revisions I have to address, it’s still worth some thought.
How do I make these minor characters my own? How do I change them from caricatures to characters?
Here’s what I’ve come up with:
Give them a problem.
Give them a desire.
Neither of which will be addressed in the novel.
Both of which will determine the character’s personality, actions, and speech.
Giving these characters a problem and a desire will make them more than filler.
This gives them a life of their own, apart from the story.
Just like everyone we come in contact with in our day-to-day lives. They might not play a big role in our personal narrative. We may never know they they are the way they are and why they act the way they act. But they are just as real and complex and needy and problematic as you and me.
Let’s Talk: How much time do you spend on minor characters? How do you bring them to life?
I’m vlogging on Jennifer Slattery’s blog today about adoption and the importance of “getting in over your head”. One randomly selected reader who leaves a comment will win a signed copy of my debut novel. If you already have a copy, think free gift for somebody you know!