Making Minor Characters Pop

I am extremely excited to introduce my first guest blogger, KM Weiland. KM Weiland is guest blogging here today, as part of her Blog Tour for her latest novel, Behold the Dawn, which was released October 1. It is my pleasure now to  introduce KM Weiland, and her guest post on Making Minor Characters Pop.

Minor characters are one of the most vital elements in any story, simply because the vast majority of your cast will necessarily be composed of minor characters. And yet minor characters are too often not taken full advantage of. Instead of grabbing the opportunity to use a minor character to bring a scene to life, to add verisimilitude to the setting, and to give the protagonist a worthy foil, we too often allow them to lay on page, flat and flaccid and boring. While writing my recently released medieval novel Behold the Dawn , I learned a lesson about minor characters that has changed the way I approach them.

Lady Eloise stormed her way onto the scene, as the wife of Lord Stephen of Essex, the man who would provide sanctuary to my hero’s beleaguered wife, Mairead. Eloise’s only necessary role in the story was to indicate Lord Stephen’s matrimonial state and, perhaps, give Mairead someone to converse with. She could so easily have become a vapid, two-dimensional talking head: a sweet, meek old woman in a wimple. But, thanks to a reminder from best-selling author James Scott Bell, such was not to be Eloise’s fate.

Minutes before sitting down to write Eloise’s introduction, I read Bell’s article “Second to None” (Writer’s Digest, June 2005), in which he reminded writers that “minor characters should add spice to your novel, not dull it down. Well-conceived minor characters add an extra spark that distinguishes the best fiction from everything else.” With his words ringing in my head, I approached Eloise’s scene from an entirely new vantage point. What could I do to bring this seemingly irrelevant character to life? How could I keep her from falling into the role of a stereotypical talking head? What would make her pop?

From there on out, Eloise (like all good characters) took over: “The door banged open again, and a silver-headed woman bustled into the room. Quick gray eyes took in the two visitors and landed with visible delight on Mairead. She bowed to the room at large and turned back to Annan. ‘Master Annan—delighted to see you, of course. I rather expected you to be dead by now.’”

Her unexpected and acerbic comments, her physical energy, and her unequivocal opinions made her jump off the page. She wasn’t a likable character; she forced her unwanted opinions on other characters too often for that. But she was a real character. Her foibles and her quirks were balanced by a stout moral core. Eloise did whatever she thought was right and hanged the consequences. The fact that she wasn’t always right only deepened her dimensions.

Like any well-rounded, three-dimensional personality, minor characters must have a healthy balance of good traits and bad traits. They must add to their scenes, instead of being so much dead weight. And—as I hope Eloise was able to do—good minor characters must be capable of bringing that extra spark of which James Scott Bell fortuitously reminded me. May his words remind you too.

About the Author: K.M. Weiland writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in the sandhills of western Nebraska. She is the author of A Man Called Outlaw and the recently released Behold the Dawn . She blogs at Wordplay: Helping Writers Become Authors and AuthorCulture.

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6 Responses to Making Minor Characters Pop

  1. K.M. Weiland says:

    Thanks so much for having me, Scribbler!

  2. Thanks, for passing along some good advice K. M.! I love your Eloise.

  3. K.M. Weiland says:

    Thanks, Janalyn! Eloise was easily one of my favorite minor characters ever. She was a blast to write!

  4. Liberty says:

    Hey, K.M.! Great thoughts. While I’ve never heard it presented in just this way, I’ve always read books that have interesting secondary characters, so it seems to have permeated my brain anyway. Besides, everyone’s different, so you can’t have their reactions be cookie-cutter anyway.

  5. K.M. Weiland says:

    That’s the key, I think: recognizing that even minor characters have to be their own unique entities. Even if they don’t get the same face time as major characters, they’re still feeling and thinking and doing just as much as the majors.

  6. Great post! It was a pleasure having you stop by the blog!

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