We spend a lot of time thinking about our protagonists. We know them from the inside out—what they fear, where they’re from, what job they have, the pain and joy in their lives. So much of our novels rides on how well readers connect with these characters. However, we can’t neglect the other people in their lives—the minor characters. These guys are often crowd pleasers because they’re funny or quirky or clever or just provide a break from the protagonist. The best minor characters are worthy of their own spinoffs. So, just how do you write memorable ones? Read on to find out.
First, Respect Them
Respect your minor characters enough to make them feel like actual people. The best way to do this is not merely picture them as a sounding board for your protagonist—someone for your hero to talk to. Make sure they have hopes, dreams, and desires of their own. Once you know what these are, it’ll help them come to life. Here’s more on how to develop backstory for all your characters: 4 Tips to Develop Character Backstory.
The way I think of this is to ask myself, who among my darlings will become a fan favorite and why? What makes a fan fave? It could be their heart, humor, or helpfulness to the beloved hero. One of my favorites proves what can happen when the author respects the minors players. Saul Goodman was Walter White’s slimy, yet lovable lawyer in the TV series Breaking Bad. If you’ve never seen it—no problem. Here’s what you need to know: this character, not introduced until the end of season two, was such a man in his own right that he got his own show: Better Call Saul. I’m impatiently waiting for Netflix to drop the sixth and final season. Why? Because Saul is an interesting-as-hell character that I want to know more about. Saul went from minor character to leading man because the writers took the time to craft him. You can do this too.
Let the Minor Characters Speak
Although you do want to create memorable secondary or minor characters, you don’t want to give them so much oxygen that you obscure your story or your heroine’s journey. A practical way to avoid such a pitfall is to not waste time on exposition when it comes to your minor character. Let this person’s story, motivation, and desires be shown through their dialogue with the main character. For instance, if they’re a punctual military vet, that should be clear in their speech versus a nanny who never had kids of her own. Word choice, speech patterns, and other ticks of dialogue should, for the most part, be enough to share what is necessary about this character.
Walk in Their Shoes
Another way to make your minor characters pop is to imagine the scene from their point of view. What would be most important to them? What would they be thinking about? What would their motivation be to tell the truth or to lie? These are minor characters, so there’s no need to go into detail, but the reader should understand where they’re coming from. In the end, if you treat these minor characters like people, you’ll almost certainly make them memorable.