Often, our favorite characters aren’t the central protagonist. It doesn’t make sense, since presumably the writer took more time developing the central character than the supporting cast, but everyone knows great minor characters can transform a story. So, how do bring these secondary actors to life?
A Small Part Does Not Equal a Small Character
Minor characters often have major roles, especially if you’re a big believer in twists. Agatha Christie did a phenomenal job developing all of her characters for a reason. Only paying attention to the person who ‘done it’ gives away the ending. Even if you aren’t writing a mystery, your readers shouldn’t know what’s happening or where a twist is coming from.
Don’t be afraid to flesh out minor characters with the same dedication you use with POV protagonists. Find out where they’ve been, what they want, and why they are important to the plot. You may discover they aren’t really minor characters at all.
Give Them Something to Do
Every character in your story should be there for a reason. Give them something to do or cut them out of your story. Why do characters do things? Motivation. What does your character want, and how badly do they want it? You build a plot by creating obstacles between the character and their desire. If your minor characters have goals that interfere with your primary character’s ambition, you can develop some plot twists! At the very least, you’ll up the stakes.
They key to character motivation, of course, is to follow through with it. Make sure you give your character a direction and give them a reason to stick to it. Don’t shy away from minor or major friction with other characters based on decisions throughout the story. Good news for your minor character may signal to the primary character that something has gone horribly wrong. Maybe the minor character’s story isn’t finished when the primary character has reached the end. In your next story, your minor character may step into the limelight!
Bring on the Quirks!
Make your characters memorable. Although there’s a lot that goes into thorough character development, it’s the little things that will stick with the readers. We remember how much Hobbits love mushrooms and tell our significant others “As you wish” because it means something special The Princess Bride. Note that my definition of a ‘quirk’ is a little loose here. Find an idea, a habit, an article of clothing, a phrase, a drink, or anything else that stands out in your imagination and pair it with a character who needs it.
A Story of Their Own
Even if a character is not the primary actor in your story, they should clearly have a story of their own. After all, interesting people are built through interesting events! That story obviously doesn’t need to go in primary story, but having a background to draw upon is essential. Who knows? Maybe your minor character knows the primary character from school, a heist, army days, or some mysterious event your primary character doesn’t want revealed.
Are you ready to get writing? Your minor characters are waiting for your attention. They have some great ideas for that story you’re working on.