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?

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