Time to Write Now By Julaina Kleist-Corwin

About Writing Plus

Roles of Minor Characters in Fiction

minor charac with cut it signMinor characters in fiction are supposed to complement the major characters and move the plot forward. A simple definition, but Orson Scott Card wrote an article for Writers Digest that explains other ways to use minor characters.

Card describes the unimportant minor characters he calls  “walk-ons” or placeholders. They are not important to the story except that they are “background; they are part of the milieu” like the cab driver, the bellman, or horn-honkers who stare at the protagonist in a traffic jam, to name a few. They vanish and are never seen again, often forgotten.

A minor character who is “on stage” for a longer time than a walk-on and for a purpose will be memorable if the writer makes him/her unique, “eccentric, exaggerated, or obsessive.”  “Like flashbulbs, they need to shine once, brightly, and then get tossed away.” Remember, this kind of minor character cannot be in the beginning of the story or the reader will think he/she is a main character. The minor character deserves attention otherwise why is he/she there, however, don’t let the minor character steal the spotlight away from the main character/s.

minor charac deserve attention   minor charac shifts spotlight to him

In Norman in the Painting, I wrote Jack as a walk-on, but he kept entering more scenes and now he is a minor character who has an arc. He starts as a jerk, Jack the Jerk, as Jill, the protagonist calls him. Card would say he is memorable because of exaggeration. When the tension in the plot rises into danger, Jack is there and not as a jerk.

 

The recent scene in Hada’s Fog I posted, (see Menu Bar) introduces a minor character named Annabel Lee. She deserves attention, she needs to be memorable, because Hada will be contrasting Lilli, one of the antagonists, to Annabel Lee’s personality in future chapters.

 

Annabel Lee is obsessed with Edgar Allen Poe. She’s eccentric in the way she looks and acts. Her exaggerated friendliness, although sincere, is a bit over the top with meeting people in the baggage department for a few minutes. Does she move the action forward? No. Will she appear again in the story? No. Her purpose is to show through interaction that Hada can be friendly, caring, and light-hearted, a side of her the reader doesn’t see too often.

Comments

  1. It’s really helpful to see examples in your writing, whether Norman in the Picture or Hada’s Fog, of the points of craft you are discussing in your articles. Realizing that the introduction of Annabelle serves mainly to show an important side of Hada’s character helps us more clearly understand the concept. Thank you.

  2. Thanks, Ann. Jack and Annabel were waiting in the wings willing to offer their examples.

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