Who IS This? Making Minor Characters Useful


Last week Nailing Down The Essentials continued the Character Development Series with Heroes. I’d planned to talk about the Heroine today, but home life has been incredibly busy (also the reason I’m so late getting this post up), and a post for less significant characters took far less thought than one for a main character. So, this week, it’s minor characterd.

Hotel clerk, bar tender, cab driver, friend of a friend. Anyone can be a minor character in your novel – it’s an equal opportunity career. The minor character is one who is only present for a short time in the story. They can make one appearance, or several, but the reader doesn’t see much of them. They often have a vital bit of information to pass on to the protagonists, and when they accomplish that, they can disappear. Some hang around a little longer to take care of less important tasks, but they don’t get a great deal of attention.

The temptation is to bring the character into the scene, let him do his job and leave, without bothering to do more than name him, if we even do that much. The trouble with that approach is, it can minimize the importance of the character’s job to the reader, causing her to miss something important.

A moment’s more work can add new layers of significance to whichever conflict the minor character is part of, and even introduce the potential for more conflict and tension. Suddenly, this one-off character can reveal some aspect of the protagonist’s (or antagonist’s) personality that we may not even have been aware of. The reader’s experience will be richer, the other characters more multidimensional, and the plot can become more complex.

How do we achieve this miracle? Simple. Give the character 2 or 3 unique traits, and reveal those traits judiciously. Put a couple minutes’ thought into the traits, and into how you can get the most mileage out of them.

In Blood Dragon, Kiellen’s mission is to find Jaden after her friends reported her missing. He goes to the motel her friends say she intended to check in to with the man she met at the nightclub. The clerk brings out facets of Kiellen’s personality the reader hasn’t seen yet.

The clerk is young, and insolent, which reveals Kiellen’s impatience in dealing with humans. His tension escalates as the clerk takes his sweet time answering questions. In a scant hint of foreshadowing, Kiellen begins to wonder why his emotions are surfacing with this mission. With his habit of emotional distance from his missions, dealing with anger and frustration while trying to keep a clear head is new, and frustrating as well, introducing a new source of inner conflict.

Of course, I could have revealed all that in other ways. But the clerk provided the opportunity, and to have wasted it would have simplified Kiellen. I could have used another trait for the clerk to either reveal more about Kiellen, or the plot, but I chose not to. Too much of even a good thing can ruin the story.

Give it a shot. Write a scene where your Hero and Heroine are out to dinner. Have the waiter flirt openly with the Heroine, while sneaking snide remarks. Using the Hero’s point-of-view, explore his reactions to this insignificant character. Does he realize he’s jealous? Try to hide that fact from the Heroine? How else does he react to his jealousy? How does the Heroine react? Perhaps this is where the Hero begins to realize he has feelings for the Heroine?

The key to using minor characters this way is striking the balance between giving them enough significance that the reader notices what they do, without making them seem more important than they are.

How do you use minor characters? Do you make them stand out, or just let them fade into the setting?

Six Sentence Sunday 12-18

This week’s Six is a little change of pace. Still from Blood Dragon, this one is from Kiellen’s point-of-view. He and his team have followed the evidence toward Jaden, and finally, they’re on the right track.

Kiellen disconnected and climbed back into the van. “Wake up, sleeping beauties.” His men came awake, fully alert and ready to go. “We got info.” He filled them in on what Adelle told him, then turned to the computer.

Redinger’s face stared back at him from the screen.  

Will they get there in time to save Jaden?

For a list of all this week’s participants, stop by Six Sentence Sunday.

Thursday Throbs 12-15

It’s been a long week, trying to get my family ready for the holidays while also trying to finish revisions for Blood Dragon, and sneak in a little time to continue working on BDII‘s first draft. I really need to come up with a title for that one – getting sick of calling it “BDII“. Oh, yeah, and I’m slowly working on some changes here, too. And I just remembered, I need to send out Christmas cards… Oh, well, you get the idea. I’m sure your week has been just as busy!

So, I took a little eyecandy break and dug up a few pics for you. I’m a some-time tattoo artist, though these days I mostly limit myself to creating the art (and not much of that, too busy), leaving the actual tattooing to my daughter. As a result, I love looking at tattoo pics. It’s even better if the tat is attached to a sexy guy – not a balding, middle-aged, overweight, mid-life crisis dude with stretch marks who’s suddenly decide he’s always wanted ink. Seen enough of those, thank you very much!

These tats have sexy guys attached! Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Six Sentence Sunday 12-11

This week’s Six continues the scene from last week’s. Jaden has fought her captors to keep them from torturing her, only to be knocked unconscious. Now that she’s awake, Jack, Redinger’s assistant, explains what happened.

Jack laughed and stood up. Filth encrusted coveralls sent off a fresh wave of nausea-inducing stink. “That’s my own invention. Redinger’s cattle prod ain’t strong enough to manage vamps, in my opinion.” His habit of dropping entire syllables and running words together made him difficult to understand. “I jerry-rigged one to double the zap – slap it to the base of the spine, and they’re down for the count.”

 

Visit SixSunday.com for the list of all the Six Sentence Sunday participants.

Six Sentence Sunday 12-4

This week’s Six is from another scene, but picks up where we left off, with Jaden unconscious.

Jaden came to, lying on a blanket in the cell. The pain in her back and head made her wish she hadn’t regained consciousness. She tried moving, only to groan aloud and stop.

“Oh, you’re awake.” The nearby voice sounded vaguely familiar.

 A little at a time, she forced her eyes open, wincing as memory flooded back. 

To check out other fabulous writers, visit SixSunday.com for a list of all the Six Sentence Sunday participants.

Six Sentence Sunday

My memory’s like a sieve – forgot to post last week. 😀

This week’s Six is from Blood Dragon, from the same scene as the past several Six posts. Jaden fought back when Redinger tried to force her into a chair built for torture. She has knocked him unconscious here, and needs to make a decision.

Should she take the time to feed from Redinger? Would the boost to her strength be worth the risk of delaying her escape? Probably not. Better to just get the hell out of the ware-

Soul shattering pain hit the base of her spine. Her muscles refused to fight, and she dropped to the floor as everything went black.

Six Sentence Sunday

This week’s Six is from Blood Dragon. This is later in the same scene as last week’s Six. Jaden has recovered from the cattle prod enough to stand and make Redinger think she’s going to cooperate nicely with his demand that she sit in the torture chair.

When Redinger closed his eyes in a full blink, she charged. This time she made contact, just above his knees, and propelled him back and down.

Rather than going all the way down, he landed on his ass with a grunt. He struck her head with the baton, hard enough to make her see stars. Then hit her again.

Jaden hit back, her fist connecting with his jaw in a glancing blow.