Who Else: Writing Secondary and Minor Characters

Who Else Is There?

Writers know all about our main character–they’re the focus of our story. Often, the story is told in their voice.

But what about everyone else? Unless you’re writing a person-versus-nature like Hatchet, you’re probably going to have other characters.

Minor Characters

These are the people who fill your world. The merchants and crowds you pass on the streets. The lady handing you your receipt. The mooks you kill.

Minor characters and mooks are like furniture, they exist to boost plot or react to major characters.

Tip: Don’t make them cookie cutter stereotypes. If you have a default mental image, question it. Do they have to be male/female? A particular race? A certain age? Physically fit and neurotypical? If not, try to vary it up! The real world is full of variety and your world should be, too!

Some Go-To ‘Minor’ Characters

  • Offstage authority figure – explaining things to the boss is great for info dumps
  • Mothers
  • Love interests – or at least minor flirtations
  • Minor characters with scene stealing personality

When minor characters start resisting your intended plot/role for them, you’ve succeeded in making a strong mental model for them! They’re well on their way to becoming full-blown secondary characters!

Secondary Characters

Otherwise known as major-minor characters, these are your side kicks, your love interests, your besties, or your enemies (except your main villian).

What is a Secondary Character

  • They’re not a point-of-view (POV) character
    • Shorter stories should have fewer POV characters
    • Some suggest that each POV character adds 120 pages to your novel
  • They have enough screen time to deserve a name
    • Conversely, if you give them a name, you should do the work to make them true, 3-dimensional characters with backstories, hopes, and dreams
      • The hopes/dreams/backstories don’t need to be on screen, maybe they shouldn’t, but should inform the characters actions and reactions
  • They’re interesting and well-rounded enough to be qualified to have their own POV sequel.

4 Tips For Making Minor Characters Become Secondary Characters

  1. Make sure you do your homework, don’t make them 2-dimensional, stereotypical, support characters.
  2. Have a character bible so you can keep track of all the details you don’t need on paper (and the ones you do)
  3. Remember, just because you’re interested in everything about your world, doesn’t mean the reader is. Leave out as much as possible. (Leave room for your Secondary character to have her own book)
  4. Remember that their life keeps going, even when they’re not on the page

This post is based on notes from the “Writing Major Minor Characters” panel at #Balticon51. The panelists were Dr Claire McCague, John Walker, Jamaila Brinkley, SM (Steve) Stirling, and Mark Van Name (yes, that’s his real name).

Do you have any tips I missed? Any favorite go-to characters?


What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s