Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Minor Characters...A Major Issue?

Tom Schreck, the Duffy Dombrowski Mysteries

Interesting minor characters can give a book a well rounded feel.

Just like life, people can make the difference in terms of color, humor and diversity.

But don't make the mistake of making your minor characters too interesting.

The minor characters should be interesting in proportion to their prominence in the book. If they're made too interesting the reader will be disappointed when they don't figure in the ending, when they don't get more face time or when they don't develop.

Think about it. If the character is that cool why wasn't he or she featured more? It doesn't make sense to give these characters fascinating backgrounds and then not write enough about them.

Whether you want to believe it or not, readers cry out for structure in fiction. Part of that structure is having things make sense. A minor character should be minorly interesting.

It's why some minor characters can be cliched. A cliched minor character barely registers in the mind of the reader. The gruff cab driver, the nervous drug addict or the barely verbal Mafia muscle guy work because you don't have to think about them.

Make them bigger and the cliche becomes annoying.

Agree? Disagree? I'd love to hear your ideas on the topic.


  1. I agree. Minor characters have a function. But sometimes they become so interesting that as authors, we give them their own stories. And we have cliches for a reason—they're based on common traits.

    1. Ditto. Sometimes in order to get them to sit back and shut up, you have to promise them a book (or series) of their own.

  2. Henry James called them 'ficiles'. I call them fickle. Rosencratz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Then there are the minor characters who walk in and take over. Fonzie on TV. And how many in our books? I've got one now, and she just won't go away.

  3. I cringe at the words cliche and stereotype. I think we can still have bit players in our stories who are moderately interesting and don't come across as having just stepped off the secondary character assembly line. I agree we shouldn't go overboard in their creation, but I think even the bum on the street corner with a thing for flashy neckties and the nail biting waitress with the pet rat deserve to be memorable to some degree. It's what makes fiction so much fun to read. And to write. :)


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