Why Your Minor Characters Are So Important

By on October 18, 2016
Why Your Minor Characters Are So Important - Writer's Life.org

When it comes to writing your book, you will no doubt include a whole host of characters. Some play bigger parts than others - your main protagonist(s) for example, are hugely important and must be interesting and engaging (though they don’t necessarily have to be likeable) to keep your reader immersed in your story and curious to know what happens next.

However, from the barista who spills coffee down your characters new shirt to their fusspot mother - often the minor characters are the ones that surprise you, and play a bigger part in your story then you initially thought they would.

Not all your characters are going to be equal, they won’t all get the same about of ‘page time’ and readers certainly won’t gain an insight into the thoughts, secrets and desires of those characters who don’t have a leading role. However, they all have a part to play, and minor characters still need to be carefully thought out, however seemingly inconsequential in the grand scheme of your book.

Great writers know it is important to pay attention to your minor characters, to spend time perfecting them and make sure that each and every one services its purpose.

Let’s take a look at why they are so important.


The world is full of people, some we interact with and some we don’t. If you want your book to seem believable (regardless of whether it is set on this planet or not) your protagonist will undoubtedly come across different characters in every scene. Whether they are sitting in a crowded bar or walking down the street, omitting these people that brush past them or give them a strange look or hand them their drink will make your world will seem empty and strange.

All these characters need to be observed and then forgotten. Your reader shouldn’t be distracted by them, yet their presence must be there - otherwise your reader will be distracted by the lack of them. When writing these ‘vanishing’ characters, you need to make sure they don’t suddenly take centre stage. Don’t have them doing anything that demands a readers attention - fidgeting, looking nervous, acting suspiciously and so on. In a way you must force yourself to write these characters as stereotypes, their behaviour should be completely ordinary for the kind of person they are. A waiter wears a waiters uniform and hands the protagonist their drink - nothing more.

Fuelling action

A minor character can, however, help your protagonist make a decision, have an epiphany, or suddenly remember something important which changes their course of action. This is where minor characters can be crucial to the development of your story. In this case, they should be more noticeable. Some eccentricity or something exaggerated about the way they act or speak should catch the readers and the main characters attention - this then catalyses a series of events, some of which the minor character might be involved with, but eventually they too disappear once they have served their purpose.

Comic relief

Minor characters can also be extremely handy when it comes to creating comic relief. If you book is full of tension, occasionally this should be broken by coming relief. A minor character that crops up throughout the story who has an amusing appearance or always does the same repetitive but hilarious thing, or manages to deliver witty one-liners can be extremely instrumental when providing comic relief for your audience.

Providing contrast

Minor characters can also be used to highlight different characteristics in your main character. If everyone else is dressed in drab and dreary outfits and your protagonist bursts into the room in a bright orange jumpsuit and flamboyant hat, they’ll be noticed even more. If everyone in the room is chattering 100 miles an hour and roaring with laughter yet your main character stays silent this only further highlights the contemplative/ scared/ angry mood that they are in.

Minor characters are incredibly useful in a book, they are the pawns of the chess set, and you can keep moving them around to protect your main characters, but ultimately what you do with them just might win you the game!

Bethany Cadman -author of 'Doctor Vanilla's Sunflowers'

Bethany Cadman -author of 'Doctor Vanilla's Sunflowers'

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