Angie Azur is a YA Sci-fi Writer.
Writer for PALEO Magazine.
Former Intern at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.
SCBWI & COWG Member.


Thursday, July 12, 2012

Minor Characters and What They Reveal:

Usually when a writer writes, he/she is not thinking about the minor characters. Well, the newbie writer is NOT thinking about these quick lived characters, maybe you published authors are, or at least have given them some thought. 


The best main characters have the best minor characters. These characters reveal things about the main characters, even if they only show up in one scene, or one part of a sentence. So the writer MUST pay attention to them.


Having a minor character show something in a main character that shouldn't be there is a huge flaw in your writing. Use every character well, and your main characters will be remembered.


Example:


My main character in THE LINK, a brand new novel I am working on right now, is Seit. She's gone through the worst tragedy a happy kid could go through. Her parent's died in a seaplane accident. Now she is being moved from California, to Alaska, by her crazy Indian wanna be Uncle. 


Uncle is a major-minor character: They have a lot of contact.


But the people in Uncle's "camp" are all minor characters. Seit knows them from previous visits to Uncles house, but she's never befriended any of them. Now she must live there. 


She has a small interaction with a child, cooking salmon over an open fire pit. 


What you need to know: 

  • Seit is inherently good natured
  • Seit likes kids
  • Seit is broken hearted
  • Seit hates that she's been moved to this "camp"
  • Seit grew up with some money - she's used to having her own bathroom, bedroom, and laptop

So how should Seit react to a small child cooking salmon in the middle of this "camp" she now must call home?

Example 1 : The smell of smoke and oil is thick here. My clothes stink, and my hair too. And no matter what I do, I can't wash it out. Mom used lavender soap. I miss that so much, I ache for it. And they never stop cooking. There's always something dead hanging over fire. They salt everything too. I hate salt. It tastes like the beach.

"Hi Seit! Hi!" Oliver, a scrawny, tall boy waves at me as I try to sneak into the hut. "This is my first one. I caught it this morning. Wanna bite?" His face is so full of happiness I want to spit. No I don't want any salty fish. I'm sick of salty fish. I smell like salty fish. God. His eyes are so bright.

I change my route and head toward the fire pit. 


Example 2: The smell of smoke and oil is thick here. My clothes stink, and my hair too. And no matter what I do, I can't wash it out. Mom used lavender soap. I miss that so much, I ache for it. And they never stop cooking. There's always something dead hanging over fire. They salt everything too. I hate salt. It tastes like the beach.

"Hi Seit! Hi!" Oliver, a scrawny, tall boy waves at me as I try to sneak into the hut. "This is my first one. I caught it this morning. Wanna bite?" His face is so full of happiness I want to spit. No I don't want any salty fish. I'm sick of salty fish. I smell like salty fish. God. His eyes are so bright.

I go inside and slam the door. 

The only line I changed was the last one. What does this say about my character?

In the first one, she's hurting. She misses her Mom so much she can smell the lavender. She hates the smell of fish, she hates the taste of it too, and yet she makes space to go over and make a young boy, she barely knows, happy.

In the second one, she has all these same feelings, but she slams the door. She doesn't even bother to answer him. You can feel her anger of her situation.


Minor Characters can show big tells about your main characters. 

Think about your day today. Who did you meet who might qualify as a minor character in your day? 

  • Waitress/Waiter
  • Dry Cleaner
  • Mail Person
  • Flight Attendant
  • Person you sat next to on the bus
  • Carpet installers (this is happening at my house right now)
  • Pizza delivery person
  • Pet store owner

How did you react and/or treat these people? It probably depended upon your mood, what is or was going on in your life, and who you inherently are as a person.

If I could have been a fly on your shoulder, watching your interactions and/or reactions to these minor characters in your day, I would have been able to tell something about you.

Example: 

The pet store owner, who is usually miserable and unfriendly, smiles and asks you how your day's been. Typically he's rude, self-absorbed, and treats you like your business doesn't really matter. How did you react? 

Well, when it happened to me, I was in a rush because my kids wanted to stay in the car. I was late for the carpet installers, and my cat hadn't come home last night. 

I wasn't exactly rude, but I didn't answer him like I would a friend. 

On another day, if he acted out of character-ly nice to me, I'd have had a full blown conversation. Mainly, because I've been wondering how a pet store owner is so angry all of the time. He surrounds himself with cute, small, animals and animal lovers, and yet he is miserable. It's odd to me, so I'd like to see what makes him tick. Doubt he'll ever ask me again about my day, though. Ha.

But he sure will make a great minor character in my book. 


 The best minor characters I can think of in a movie would have to be the ones in FINDING NEMO.


When Marlin meets these characters on his journey to find his son, they show Marlin's true character. He may be scared and small on the outside, but through these minor characters, you see how big his heart and bravery truly are. 



The sharks scare him at first, 
like they should to any fish. But when he sees the mask of the divers who took his son, his brave daddy side shines. 






During his time with the turtles, Marlin shows his worry for Dory, and his ability to have a true friend. In previous scenes, he tells Dory to leave. But when she is lying motionless on the back of a turtle, his emotion shows. 



The turtles also help him to understand that his son is growing up, and he has to trust that what he's taught him about the ocean, and about life will be enough. 





The other fish dad's also show a lot about Marlin. The first time they meet, Marlin is a frightened father, letting his son go off to school for the first time. He's so uncool to Nemo too. 

The second time they meet, Marlin is a changed fish. He's confident. He's funny. He's super cool in Nemo's eyes. And this time these dad's look nervous, when Marlin's new shark friends stop by to say hi. 


Minor Characters can make or break your story. Even the smallest encounter can give away loads of information about your main character. So be aware, be very aware when you are writing your minor characters. Pay attention. Know their purpose, or get rid of them now. 

Write~On
Angie












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