When you’re writing a novel, you’re going to spend a lot of time fleshing out the main characters of your story. You want them to captivate your readers to the point they can’t put your book down.
But what about the policewoman who gives your hero a ticket? What about the kid who mows your heroine’s lawn?
Sooner or later, your heroes will come in contact with minor characters. These characters may only get a few moments of “screen time,” but that doesn’t mean they’re unimportant. No, you wouldn’t need a complete file on their backgrounds and home lives and how they were treated as children, but you should know enough about them to make them interesting for the reader.
Here’s a few tips on that.
Minor Characters are People, Too
One thing to keep in mind about minor characters: they are the main characters of some other story. They, too, have their desires and needs, their goals and setbacks, their beloved ones and antagonists.
Suppose your main character is trying to buy a plane ticket home in time to see their dying father, but there are no flights available. This situation calls for some interaction with an airline ticket counter attendant. His or her appearance would be short, but it should have some impact on the story, or there’s no point in mentioning it at all.
Make some interesting choices about this minor character. As your main character gets more and more frustrated, how would the attendant react? Maybe he or she had a father who died of cancer not long ago, and they couldn’t attend him in time, either. Would that make them sympathetic or cynical?
Such choices give depth to your story and make the reader feel like he’s reading about a rich, vivid world.
Minor Characters Help Readers to Understand Your Main Characters
Minor characters also present an opportunity to draw out some of the characteristics of your main character.
How does your main character treat the minor characters he or she comes in contact with?
In the example above, what does the mounting frustration of the main character against the ticket counter attendant reveal about his character?
Minor characters can act as allies or mini-antagonists, and each interaction should reveal something about what kind of a person the main character is.
Minor Characters are Minor
In making your minor characters more interesting, you don’t want to go too far. Make a minor character too interesting, and you’ll be dealing with something other than a minor character.
If you want a character to be minor, you don’t want to make them so interesting that readers are frustrated by their brief appearance, or worse–that the readers take more interest in them than in your main characters.
This can be a fine line to walk and takes practice to master, but you want to make sure your minor characters and major characters have a clear division in your story.
Minor characters are people who help you highlight your protagonist’s values, beliefs, or situation, without becoming so interesting that they lure the reader away from your main character. It’s a delicate balance to master, but by rounding up minor characters, you will be creating a richer story.