Hello, and welcome to Character Creation 101! I haven’t worked out our syllabus yet, so bear with me. It’ll take some time to work out what we’re going to do in here.
Or… maybe we could just take it one character at a time.
Yeah, let’s do that.
For these final weeks, you and I will be exploring various character types and traits, and delving into how to write them well, no matter the story you’re working on. After all, characters are some of the most important parts of writing, whether you’re writing novels, novellas, or even short stories. If the characters are awful, no amount of amazing story will help you. Trust me on that.
At this point in the series, we’ve talked about everything from protagonists to antagonists, from dead men walking to hobbits, and everything in between. And now we have only two more character types to discuss, before our series ends and the RADblog goes on to other things. So let’s get to it, shall we?
The Little Guy
Who is he, you ask? He’s a side character, a character who doesn’t really matter all that much in the big picture, but has a role nonetheless—and one that matters to at least one other character in the book. He’s a character who probably has only one or two lines, maybe a dozen at most, and by the end of the book it’s likely that few will remember his name, but he’s highly important to the story as a whole—because he’s in it.
How to write a side character, without letting them into the spotlight
As always, if done wrong, this character is more of a problem than anything else. Characters can take the spotlight, if they’re given too much attention—but if they’re not given enough attention, they can be a hassle to deal with and get right, in the end.
Use Your Head
Yeah, this is the only point I’m making, when it comes to creating a worthwhile side character, a minor character who matters in the moment but not in the end. Use your head, no matter what. Why? Because they’re a character too, and they want to take the spotlight, wherever they can. Because they need attention to get them right, to make them stand out as they should, but if they get too much attention, they’ll take it and run with it. It’s your job to make sure that doesn’t happen, your duty to reel them in and make them exactly what they need to be. They’re here for a purpose, to serve a specific duty within the story itself, and your job as writer is to make sure they do it well. Clearly. Concisely. Write them with their purpose in mind, write them with caution. Remember why they’re here. If this character is here to push your protagonist into doing what they need to do for the story to reach its final goal, then make sure they do it to the best of their ability.
The thing most writers don’t do is write a full backstory for their minor characters—but it’s very important to do. If even your minor characters don’t have a backstory, an explanation for why they’re here and why they’re fulfilling this specific purpose, then you have a problem.
Let them shine. Give them their moment. And then turn your back on them just as quickly. Everyone gets their five minutes of fame, but sometimes it’s no more than that.
But we wouldn’t know what that’s like, would we? ;-)
Associate Editor, etc.