Manage Minor Characters

Writers also double as casting directors. We ransack our imaginations and experiences for characters, hoping to match them to the perfect plot. We spend a huge amount of time shaping the main and major characters, creating backstories and constructing arcs for them (not arks, unless you’re writing Biblical stories). But minor characters are important too. I’ve found that’s true especially in cozy mysteries. One of the hallmarks of a cozy mystery is the enclosed community in which it takes place. It can be a small town, small business, or some kind of club, any group that consists of a limited amount of people. Adding colorful and fun minor characters spices the mystery and ensures that my setting feels real and isn’t just populated with a detective and suspects. To manage minor characters, I divide them into two categories: supporting and walk-on.

Supporting Characters

I classify characters as supporting ones if their function is to further the plot. In my YA mystery short story, “A Rose from the Ashes”, I needed to establish some backstory. I had my main character Rae discuss a mysterious fire and the disappearance of a woman with Barb, the director of the library in which Rae works. When I wanted to introduce a new character and didn’t have the word count or time to create a new scene, I made him Barb’s boyfriend. That gave him an excuse to come to the library and run into Rae. In both cases, Barb helped propel the plot.

Walk-On Characters

Walk-on characters don’t have to do more than help the reader feel like the story is operating in a real place. If I only write about Rae and Barb when I have a scene at the library, it gives the impression that they are the only employees, which would be atypical. I mention a few other employees by name as Rae works her shift to make the main branch of the Marlin County Library seem real. Since the library is located in a small town within a rural county, Rae knows most of the people who come into the library by name. I can write something as simple as, “I had to cut short my conversation with my cousin as Mrs. Zollars staggered up to the desk with her usual load of romance novels”, to give my novel the small-town atmosphere it needs.

Click here for a post on how to flesh out minor characters.

Readers, what stories have you read that had great minor characters? Writers, how do you manage minor characters?

Writing Tip — Death of a Character

gravew-3775464_1280I 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 last year, I hit on the reason: I didn’t need him any more.

In my head, I’ve 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. My stories weren’t just about pleasing or entertaining me, although that’s important. I could never write a story without characters I didn’t care about or a plot that wasn’t interesting and rang true to life.┬áThis time, 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.

 

Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑