by Tim Kane
Not only am I a writer, but I’m a serious reader. Nothing bugs me more than following a character for pages only to find that he wasn’t that important. A minor character. A throwaway. It makes me want to throw the book to the floor (but I have a Nook and that would be an expensive act of rage).
Yes, minor characters are essential to any story. Unless you’re writing a monologue or a story about an utter loner, your character will need others around him or her. Hey, even Robinson Crusoe had Friday. Decide early on which characters are essential and which are stage dressing. Having an intrusive minor character is like watching an actor attempt to make his role larger than it is. I see this all the time on TV. Some “witness” with a few lines, suddenly takes center stage. Why?
Here are some steps to ensure that your minor characters don’t take over your novel.
A great term in Shakespeare plays is exeunt. This means that everyone leaves. You need to have your minor characters do just that. Have them deliver whatever bits of information they need and then get them out of there.
Names create a relationship with a reader. It draws a reader in. Minor characters don’t need names. It gives them more import than needed. Pick a detail about the character (dress or voice quality) and have the character be defined with that attribute. For example: The man with the squeaky voice or the woman with pixie cut.
Be An Agent for Change
Minor character are allowed to linger if they serve a purpose. Do your minor characters act like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern? Maybe they help the protagonist come to decision. Or do these minor characters help shape the plot? Perhaps a key bit information can come from this otherwise nobody character. This is the best reason to invest more time into these minor roles. Only take care not to let the sidekicks overshadow the true heroes and heroines of the tale.