Monday, September 13, 2010

Minor Characters Have Lives Too


Jason Stackhouse is a minor character, and yet is developed well in both the HBO series, "True Blood", and in Charlaine Harris' books.

Minor characters. Every book has them. They need to live and breath in the reality of the world you have created. They need to have opinions, needs, personalities, ups and downs in life. And, if they do have a shift in their emotional development, what will it be? It must go from one thing to another, from bad to better, or from good to bad. It could be a flaw in their make up, and they strive to change it, or in the way things develop around them, there can be no other way that they can't change to some degree by it.

Maybe someone dies, someone they love. That would have an effect on them emotionally.

Also, if this character has some influence on the main characters, is a relative, perhaps, or maybe they are involved in the resolution some how, and what they do, or how they react to one minor thing, brings about the major thing/change.

So the big question of this post is:
Do you know what makes your minor characters tick? Why are they there, in a scene? Could you do more to turn them into three-dimensional figures? Have them speak a little differently. Not everyone speaks exactly the same. Some people like to repeat pet words, like “absolutely”, or when they greet someone, “Hello, there”, or “How's it going?” Some men might say the other person's name first in a greeting: “Chet, how's it going?” and a nod.

Do they have a quirk? A tick? Some characteristic, maybe in what they wear, or refuses to wear. I know of one college student who I worked with, that no matter how cold it got, he always wore the baggy shorts, I don't care if it was 20 below, he always wore them like he was damned to prove he was impervious to the cold.

Go ahead, use people you know—even barely know—to help you create a memorable character with some aspect of what they look like, or how they act, how they talk. Mix and match, too, if you need to in order to keep their identity a secret. And it's okay to use a character in a movie, as long as it isn't someone too well known, and you aren't encroaching on copyrighted material.

Developing your minor characters may not seem an important, but you are building a reality, and your cast of characters need to have certain qualities to help a scene feel real, or keep it from becoming bland. You don't want your readers to become bored with a scene, so you may need some flamboyant character who's either a little off, colorful, talks nasty, or more colorful, tells jokes, whatever. You know that you have people around you who are like this, so, next time you're with co-workers, relatives, friends, make note in your head how they act, what they wear, or how they wear it, and how they speak, or things they like or dislike.

As a final note, if you are writing a series, you may want to bring this character into the next book a little more, and so making them stand out, lovable, or however you want them, you need to introduce them in the best possible way so that they are memorable. There may be something about him/her that no one knows about who can come into play, or be of some vital importance down the road. Developing this minor character may become vital when you need an ace up the sleeve, and you've run out of heroes who can come to the rescue. Or, someone who might become your next villain.

To sum up, pay attention to your minor character's traits, if they need to be fleshed out in your notebook, do it. Even though you may only have him/her minimally in the first story, you may want to use them for another book. So keep your notebook, and add to it as you need/think of things.

Just like movies, you need to keep that character just on the edge, people surrounding your main characters play a role, even if its to build on a scene. They need the personality, reasons to do whatever they are there to do.

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