Take a moment to think about every person you’ve come into contact with today. The person walking by on the sidewalk to the cafeteria worker to your professor to the librarian. Or maybe the taxi driver, the doorman, and the saleslady. Odds are that you interacted with them a bit from lifting your eyes and nodding your head because of the need for social recognition to telling them what you would like to eat or where to go. Depending on how you reacted to these people who pop up in your life shows an little insight into your own personality.
Minor characters do the exact same thing for your main characters. Now, they don’t need their own full-fledged bio to be in your story. Your readers don’t have to know where they were during plot point B or how they were affected by the plot point. These characters are crafted to bring out the best–and the worst–in your characters. Each minor character your protagonist interacts with must show some fundamental aspect of your characters that may not be shown to the characters he comes into contact with all day, every day.
When I craft my minor characters, I like to create a demi-bio for them. I don’t have an actual document that I can let you all download, but here’s the gist of what I fill out for my minors:
Brief Physical description:
Brief History (if you plan on using it in the story):
Relationship to main character:
What he/she is doing when the main character comes into contact with them:
What he/she reveals about the main character:
It’s much shorter than my full-length bio that I let you guys download back in Creating a Character, Part 1, but it gets the job done. You might ask yourself, “How can I make believable minor characters when I devote my time and energy into my protagonist?” This part is the fun part. Look around at your own life. You may not even realize that you’re interacting with others, but you are! Think about a normal day in your protagonist’s life. Where does she go? Where does she eat? What does she do? Now, who all would be in those places with her?
Odds are that your character will come into contact with another person eventually. This may take some getting used to–thinking about the minor characters, but with practice comes perfection. If you aren’t sure how to create a ‘made up’ minor character, feel free to make demi-bios for all of the ‘minor characters’ in your own life. Once you’ve done that, you can easily transform that bio (or bios if you want to use them all) into a character.
I, personally, have a binder full of stock minor characters that range from a child playing in the street to the butcher behind the counter to the patrol officer. The beauty about these characters is that you can use them over and over and over. As long as they show what you want about your main character, you can use the same base character later on in the story for the same purpose–and then your readers can see how much your character has changed since the first instance. All you have to do is change the name, maybe the gender, and tada! An example of this is this: Before the climax of the story, Character X scoffed at a beggar on the street corner and didn’t give them a second look, and after the climax (or just later on down the story after many events have passed) another beggar asks Character X for money and he kindly gives him much more than he asked for because Character X is now sympathetic with the beggar due to events Character X has lived through.
In other words, minor characters are exceptionally helpful showing character development in your protagonists without you having to over-do it.
Thanks for reading!