Writing Hacks #15 Make your minor characters more than just extras

Minor characters people your novel and give your main characters’ world verisimilitude. Die to their ‘minor’ standing it is easy to bung these characters into your story. After all, we certainly don’t want them to upstage your main character(s) or distract from their plight. However, you will find opportunities to make your minor characters more life like without compromising your main story and it will add solidity to your fictional world.

What is a minor character?

‘Minor’ should be the amount of importance associated with this character for both you and the reader. A good indicator that a character is minor is that they are not named. It may be a waitress, a gas pump attendant or a mother pushing a pram down the street. The mother may serve just to remind our protagonist for the gazillionth time that she can”t be a mother herself. The point is, they are in your story, so they must serve some small purpose.

How to make your minor characters more rounded

The key here is some minor specificity. It may be something visual your PoV character has noticed about this minor character, it may be some verbal or behavioural tic they have, or perhaps even some backstory that your narrator or protagonist vaguely knows about this person. Some examples:

“The mechanic rubbed the back of his head with the rubber end of his pencil as he read the clipboard. There was an RIP tattoo on his forearm of a name written in a gothic font too hard to read.”

“He looked too fresh-faced and young to be a dealer, his eyes too wide and naive and his frame way too skinny. “

“Her index finger was clipped near down to the knuckle some unpleasantness that occurred in the winners enclosure at Ascot in the early nineties.”

This (hilarious) one is from DFW’s Infinite Jest “… Indiana, where his Ma was a latestage Valium addict and his exsoybeanfarmer Pa, blinded in the infamous hailstorms of B.S. ’94, now spent all day every day …”

The key here is specificity. Let your character stand out for a second before they blend back into the background of your world.

Happy writing