What are minor characters? The definition varies, because one cannot say that minor characters are just placeholders who have no real role in a story or a novel – every character has a purpose important to the plot or to the character’s arc of the protagonist or the other major characters. In that regard, the one definition that comes closest to actually defining minor characters would be: minor characters come on the stage (or page), fulfill their purpose, and leave. These characters can have both a great impact and be very memorable, or they can be quite forgettable. In any case, there are several things that minor characters shouldn’t be – because if they do, they cross over the threshold of minor into the realm of importance, either as major or secondary characters, or characters that will reappear in later scenes. So, what shouldn’t a minor character do or have? Continue reading to find out.
1. Be too elaborate
We understand that you’re a writer and there is nothing more fun than creating characters with elaborate lives and backstories. However, if that character appears only once in your story, it should follow quite logically that first, there is no time to present that funny or elaborate backstory, and second, that backstory and the character is not needed in the story after his role has been fulfilled. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t even name him – you should, and you need the backstory to capture his voice, manner of speaking and other tiny details that will make his appearance richer and entertaining, however, you don’t need to tell the reader these things, simply show them in the few paragraphs where the minor character gets a chance to shine.
2. Reappearing and importance
It’s okay that a minor character appears more than once – for example, if your character frequents a bar down the street, then there is a great opportunity that every time he or she goes there, they will encounter the same bartender. In this case, though the bartender appears in the story, he never appears outside of the bar. If he does appear outside of the bar and encounters your characters in a different place, or it turns out that he is the protagonist’s long lost cousin or something, then the minor role the bartender had has grown into a bigger role.
3. Appear too early
When it comes to minor characters, their first appearance is not as important as the first appearance of the protagonist and the other major characters in your story. Even if they are recurring minor characters, their first appearance doesn’t need to be memorable and extravagant; because that implies that the character is more important to the story than they actually are. The same applies to the time in your story when the minor character appears. If the protagonist meets the minor character at the beginning, the minor character will stay on the reader’s mind, because the readers expect to meet the important characters at the beginning of the story. On the other hand, if the minor character is introduced later than the major characters, his late appearance implies that he doesn’t have a greater role in the story.
4. Overshadowing the protagonist
Of course, you want the barista to have cool hair, extremely pleasing facial features and maybe even dress interestingly. If so, keep it at that and have the minor character keep his minor role by not getting too involved and talking about interesting things in an engaging way. If you don’t do this, you will find reviews where readers will compliment the minor character and even say that they wished the minor character was the protagonist – despite the fact that the minor character had no bigger role than to serve coffee and say very smart, intelligent and interesting things. It might not seem like a big deal, at first, but if you think about it, you will realize the implication of those comments – that the readers really enjoyed the few pages where the minor character appeared more than the rest of your novel.
5. Multiple roles
A minor character should not have too many different roles in a story. Although it is fine for a minor character to solve more than one problem, the important thing to remember is that the problems and the roles of the minor character need to be of similar nature. If your minor character is an expert in one thing, then don’t make him an expert in everything and have your protagonist seek the individual out for every minor issue. The same thing applies to the roles of minor characters – if they are there to point out something specific which will move the plot forward, do not have the minor character do this at every turn, because that might make the protagonist a bit irrelevant to the plot. When it comes to minor characters, everything about them needs to be toned down, and they don’t need to shine for more than a few paragraphs in your story.
Image credit: Pixabay[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]https://writingtipsoasis.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/photo.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Georgina Roy wants to live in a world filled with magic. As an art student, she’s moonlighting as a writer and is content to fill notebooks and sketchbooks with magical creatures and amazing new worlds. When she is not at school, or scribbling away in a notebook, you can usually find her curled up, reading a good urban fantasy novel, or writing on her laptop, trying to create her own.