Crafting Interesting and Memorable Minor Characters (Oren Patterson)

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Supporting characters are critical to a novel’s success. Too often they are an afterthought. Your protagonist cannot carry your entire story. Complex secondary and full tertiary characters help worldbuilding; make your story more interesting, realistic and immersive; and round out your pro/an -tagonists

  • Primary: a character that is so necessary to the story that the story could not exist without them.

  • Secondary: not the pivotal character but vital to the story. A well built secondary character can pretend to be the main character if the world and that character has enough substance. You could arguably tell the novel’s story from the POV of any secondary character, changing the focus of the plot.

  • Tertiary: should have their own story, but cannot take up that much space. They are primarily for information, moving the plot, but when they are ONLY used for that purpose, it makes your world feel less alive. Use them for their purpose, but make them more than a cardboard cutout.

Secondary:

Remember that everyone is a hero in their story. YOU are picking the story to tell, which determines who the protagonist and antagonist are.

  1. Give your secondary character a quirky trait or unique personality.

    1. Dory

    2. Rhino (Bolt)

  2. Plan ahead for them to be important later. I like to have a secondary character be the protagonist in the next story, so this planning ahead makes me care about them earlier.

  3. A good secondary character is an emotion trigger. They help draw out emotion from the main character.

    1. Leia

  4. Give your secondary character an arc. You can have their change be similar to the protagonist’s, or contrast it. Either way, it serves to deepen the complexity of the main character’s journey and the theme of the entire story.

    1. Examples: Han Solo

    2. Will be a simpler arc.

  5. Give them a story. One that is known but not really part of the one we’re telling.

    1. Brother from Signs

  6. Give them wants and goals and make them go get it.

Tertiary:

  1. Information drivers and plot movers, necessary as filler to flesh out your world. But use smaller or lesser amounts of all the notes above to make them more real and full. But don’t overkill it and take the limelight away from the main character or secondary characters.

  2. No time or room for them to have an arc.

  3. Likely not significant enough to be an emotion trigger.

  4. May not be seen again, besides their role.

    1. Sea Turtles

    2. Dentist’s daughter

  5. Don’t have to be memorable, just believable.


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The Yukon Writers’ Society is an encouraging, supportive group for fiction writers in Yukon, Oklahoma. They meet biweekly on Thursdays to embrace accountability, to learn more about the craft of writing, and to help group members start and finish their books. The Yukon Writers’ Society was founded in 2016 and provides free meetings for its members. Their group anthology, Shivers in the Night, was published in April 2018.