When Minor Characters Hijack Your Story

Minor characters can be a lot of fun. They can add color, humor, or some other element that you can’t include in your major characters because of the story you’re trying to tell. But you have to watch those vivid, minor characters. Let your attention stray, or pay too much attention to a minor character, and the next thing you know, she’s mounted a coup. When minor characters hijack you story, you need to ask yourself a few questions.

Do I Have the Correct Main Character?

If a minor character is attracting all your interest, maybe you need to upgrade him to the main character. Write a few scenes from his POV and see how the story plays. If you feel your main character is the right one to carry the story, audition your attention-getting minor character as a major one.

Am I Bored with My Story?

Your minor character may be taking over because the story you planned to write just isn’t working. Stop writing and see if you can build a main character out of this minor one. Then brainstorm for a story that could feature your new main character

Could I Write a Spin Off Story?

Maybe your minor character still needs to be minor in your current story but could be the main or a major character in the next one.

Your minor character may be a lot more fun to write as a minor character. And also a lot more fun to read as one. She can be funnier, meaner, or more outrageous than your carefully crafted major characters. Sometimes, a minor character works so well because the reader isn’t in his head. There’s a bit of a mystery about his attitudes or goals or quirks. If he becomes a major character, he’d would lose that.

It’s similar to the saying about sausage. If you love it, then knowing the process for making it could kill your love. If readers love a minor character, then knowing exactly what makes her tick could dampen her appeal.

While writing my first novel, A Shadow on the Snow, I had a character attempt to take over. My main character nineteen-year-old Rae Riley, who has just discovered who her father is and is getting to know his sprawling, extended family, has an eighty-year-old great-grandfather, Walter. As I introduced Walter to the story, he took command. As I wrote dialogue, I felt more like I was taking dictation than imagining the conversation. (Yes, we writers hear voices in our heads, but we know they’re not real. Most of the time.) His physical appearance morphed in my mind without conscious thought on my part. I was having so much fun with him that I had to watch that I didn’t let him assume an importance that didn’t serve the story.

Walter works well as minor character with big impact. I used him in my mystery short story, “Bovine”. He’s only in one scene, but his presence influences the rest of the story.

For more tips on writing characters, click here

Who are some minor characters that you love?

Naming Game for Characters

Finding the right name for characters is critical to me. Something about their faces or personalties suggests suitable names. So for the last prompt for this month’s theme of characters, I offer a naming game for characters.

Look at the photos and the brief, character descriptions. Then tell me how you would name these characters.

Demanding high school English teacher
youth adult, fragile with tough exterior

For more character prompts, click here.

Writing the Amateur Sleuth

So exciting to introduce a new author to you! The best thing about having guest bloggers is learning from them. I love how Sally Carpenter breaks down writing the amateur sleuth in cozy mysteries. So glad you’re here, Sally!

By nature, cozy mysteries involve an amateur sleuth, not a trained professional such as a private eye or police office. Why do cozy readers love such a sleuth? Perhaps they can readily identity with the protagonist and feel more involved in solving the crime with someone like themselves. Perhaps it’s because cozies place a strong emphasis on family, and it’s enjoyable to see the sleuth’s home life.

In my Sandy Fairfax cozy series, Sandy is a 39-year-old (he aged up in the latest book) former ‘70s teen idol restarting his career and reconnecting with his estranged family. Along the way he stumbles (sometimes literally) across bodies. What are the qualities that help him solve the crime?

Intelligence. Despite the way the press portrays teen idols as “cute faces,” they’re no dummies. During his career in the 1970s, on weekdays, Sandy learned lines and acted on a TV show. In the evenings he recorded albums. On weekends he traveled across the country to perform in live concerts. During the week he gave endless interviews, posed for photo shoots, took part in charity events, and tried to have a private life. A guy needed smarts and stamina for a schedule like that.

Some cozies have bumbling sleuths who solve a case through blind luck rather than detection. While such characters may be funny and likeable, it’s a cheat to the reader, and the constant fumbling gets stale over several books if the sleuth never wises up.  

Curiosity. Sandy wants answers to questions. He isn’t willing to let things drop. In my latest book, The Highland Havoc Caper, he and his son find a body inside a castle. But when they fetch help and return, the corpse is gone. Sandy’s told to go away and forget about it, but he’d determined to find out what happened.

Charisma. Teen idols have an appeal that pulls in the fans. Sandy turns on the charm when he’s interviewing a suspect. Since he has no police authority, he must reply on his personality to reach people. Some suspects will speak to Sandy simply because he’s a celebrity. 

Creativity. Since Sandy has no law enforcement powers, he must find clever—and legal—means to talk to people and search buildings. Any evidence he finds may not be admissible in court, so he must go the extra mile to build a case against the culprit.

Free time. Sandy isn’t tied down to a nine-to-five job. He has down time between gigs and rehearsals to snoop around. Many cozy sleuths are shop owners. Not only does this give them the opportunity to get the news through their customers, but they can have an employee mind the shop while they go tend to a case.

Access. Most of Sandy’s cases take place in the entertainment business. As a performer himself, he’s in close contact with his suspects, more so than the police. He knows how to connect with his fellow singers/actors. 

Attention to detail. At the end of each book, Sandy manages to take the bits and pieces and fit them together like a jigsaw puzzle. It’s a throwaway clue or a chance remark or a physical object found at the scene of the crime that unmasks the killer. Sandy’s good at paying attention and remembering facts.

A sense of justice. Sandy wants to see right prevail and the wicked punished. In the book The Quirky Quiz Show Caper, Sandy’s brother, Warren, is framed for murder. Even though the brothers are not on speaking terms, Sandy is determined to see that his brother’s name is cleared. 

All good amateur sleuths—as well as professionals—have these characteristics. And readers love characters with brains, guts and a sense of fair play.

For more information about me and my cozies, as well the opportunity to download two free stories, go to my website http://sandyfairfaxauthor.com.

For more advice on creating characters, click here.


Former pop star Sandy Fairfax engages in a dangerous hobby—amateur sleuthing. At the Seaside Highland Games in California, he and his teenage son, Chip, discover more than their heritage. In a castle transported from Scotland, they find a body bludgeoned with a curling stone. But when they go for help, the corpse vanishes. Without a body or even a name, how will Sandy find the killer? As he and Cinnamon plan their wedding, more bodies pile up. A piper plummets from the castle tower and into the ocean. Another body is found behind a Scottish pub in L.A. And when Sandy takes a guest role on the Spook Spotters TV show, the worried dad must keep Chip safe from an amorous young actress. Whether you take the high road or the low road, can you solve the case before Sandy does? Buy the Kindle or the paperback.


Sally Carpenter is a native Hoosier now living in Ventura County, California. She writes adult retro-cozy mysteries: The Sandy Fairfax Teen Idol series (six books) and the Psychedelic Spy series (two books). The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caperwas a 2012 Eureka! Award finalist for Best First Mystery Book. She has a M.A. in theater, a M.Div., and a black belt in tae kwon do. She’s currently working on a new science fiction/mystery series. Download free stories from her website.

Create a Backstory for this Character

If you create a backstory for this character, which direction would you go? Would he be a villain or a hero? A main character or minor one? Would the setting be part of the backstory?

I think settings are the most underused technique writers have. So I would use the setting to help build my backstory. Maybe he’s standing in a long-lost library, a trove of information, and then loses access to it. How would that affect him? Or this library is in his home. He acquired all these wise books and wants to pass on the information but the younger generations aren’t interested. That would definitely build a backstory for him. Or maybe he’s the antagonist. The protagonist and his buddies want in the library, and the old man prevents them. His backstory would have to explain why.

For more prompts about creating characters, click here.

What backstory would you create for this character?

When to Eliminate a Character

I wrote this blog four years ago and I’m reprinting it because I now have an epilogue to it. I also think it’s important for a writer to know when to eliminate a character. The YA crime novel I refer to has never been published. Shortly after I knew “A Rose from the Ashes” was going to be published, I abandoned the novel for my Rae Riley mysteries.

I thought I was ready.

When an agent said I could send her the proposal for my YA crime novel, she also said I could send two-paragraph blurbs describing the other books in the series. When I got home, I was so excited and settled down to the job, eager to introduce into the second novel one of my favorite characters, a mysterious stranger who helps my main character and his family and whose motivations and history are revealed over the series.

Only I couldn’t summarize the book. No matter how I approached the blurb, I kept stumbling over my mysterious stranger. He wouldn’t fit easily into the narrative. He clashed and grated on other characters. His motivations never felt right. A few days before November 11, 2018, I hit on the reason: I didn’t need him any more.

In my head, I’d been developing this series for years, adding characters, changing personalities, explored motivations. I now had other characters who could do the job of the mysterious stranger more easily and believably.

So on November 11, 2018, I killed my character. It didn’t bother me like I thought it would. I love my characters, feeling an almost maternal protectiveness (don’t tell my kids) as I nurture and polish them. But once I killed the stranger, I felt at ease. When a story isn’t working, I obsess over how to fix it because I can’t stand the feeling that something is wrong. After I made the the final decision to axe the stranger, the relief I felt signaled I’d made the right decision.

It also signaled I’d changed as a writer. I was more concerned with serving the story than myself. I found myself wanting to write the best story possible, no matter how painful the path to get there.

So, sorry, mysterious stranger. I may resurrect you for another story, change you a bit, cast you in a somewhat different role.

But for now — rest in peace.


I have resurrected the mysterious stranger.

He’s changed a lot. He’s younger and now works as a deputy in Marlin County for the father of my main character, Rae Riley. His appearance has also changed, but what hasn’t is his air of mystery. This results from his silence about certain parts of his life and also the wide range of unusual skills he has. Over the course of the series, I hope to reveal his mysterious past.

So be encouraged–if you’ve worked years on a book that you can’t sell, try writing something else. Then you will very likely draw on settings or characters or plots from the old book and transform them into something better for the new one. I believe no writing experience is a waste if it’s a building block to something better.

For more tips on creating characters, click here.

Have you put a hit out on a character? Why?

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