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?

Thumbnail Sketch for a Mythical Character

A thumbnail sketch for a mythical character presents so many possibilities. Is it a sentient being from a civilization? Or an animal? Does it live in our world or a fantasy world?

If the character is an animal, my sketch is:

Loyal, protective guardian

If the character is an intelligent being, my sketch is:

No-nonsense, determined ruler or soldier

What sketch can you come up with for this mythical character?

For more fantasy prompts, click here.

Thumbnail Character Sketch

This month’s theme is probably my favorite. My site is all about characters in May. I’m a character writer. A setting can inspire me, or a plot can intrigue me, but if I don’t have characters in mind for them, those inspirations just languish in the back of my imagination. One technique I’ve learned when I want to make sure my characters act and perform differently from each other is to write a thumbnail character sketch for them. A sketch includes two or three adjectives and a noun.

I build most of my characters from faces that my imagination thinks have potential. So today’s prompt is a portrait that caught my attention because of the young man’s expression. Below is my sketch:

Observant, dry-humored college student

For more on using thumbnail sketches, click here. What thumbnail character sketch would you write for this photo?

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