Minor Characters in Stories

 

Minor Characters in Dark city
Nosferatu-like creepiness characterizes the minor characters in Dark City

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Do the minor characters in your story exude personality? Do they have small but noticeable eccentricities? Are they memorable in some or other way? If not, they need to be.

A bevvy of minor characters

In Dark City, detective Eddie Walenski, played by Colin Friels, is obsessed with drawing circular patterns on the walls of his dark prison-like room. He behaves like a man who has seen a terrible truth about existence and it has tipped him over into madness.

In Body Heat, D.A. Assistant, Ted Danson, is a minor character who pretends he is Fred Astaire, performing dance steps whenever he gets the chance. Odd but strangely captivating.

In The matrix, the Oracle is a minor character loaded with strong habits and mannerisms. She smokes like a chimney, drawing on her cigarette with excessive deliberateness, is obsessed with baking, and never answers a question directly.

In Down Periscope, writer David Ward creates a wonderful array of minor characters for his Lt. Dodge to engage with:

Nitro, the electrician is dumb, erratic, but very efficient at his job. It’s as if his I.Q. has dropped as a result of all the electrical shocks he’s received over the years. In order to have Lt. Dodge communicate with his superiors, Nitro has to turn himself into a conducting conduit each time!

Engineer Howard Elder is a sailor with many years of experience, which seems to have made him eccentric, if not downright wacky. He sports a filthy Hawaiian shirt and stubble. It’s as if Pearl Harbour has traumatized him so that time has stood still and he has never changed clothes.

Executive Officer “Mart” Pascoe is rigid and authoritative with a bad temper. His intimidation tactics are compensation for his diminutive stature. He repeats orders from Lt. Dodge by shouting them at the crew at the top of his voice.

Although the characters mentioned in the examples above are indeed minor in terms of the time and space they occupy in the story, each is made memorable through colorful mannerisms, eccentricities, or obsessions.

Summary

Minor characters need not be bland and flat, only serving the plot. Give them quirks and eccentricities to make them and your story more memorable.

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Stavros Halvatzis

I'm a writer, teacher, and story consultant.

One thought on “Minor Characters in Stories”

  1. In his book writing screenplays that sell Michael Hauge advises aspiring writers to take the time to write what they take in when watching a film or series. I have recently applied this to the first episode of Season one of Gotham. It’s an wonderful experience to take apart a whole episode and see how the writers put the story together. It makes you better appropriate the contrast between characters. The minor character of Detective Harvey Bullock serves as a constant reminder of the GCPD’s ties to the mob and how Jim needs to get with the program. Harvey is there to remind Jim of the big picture – Don Falcone does not care if Jim keeps quite about his activities. Don Falcone will order Harvey to kill Jim and every one he loves to keep there activities secret. Minor characters can play big roles. Harvey is the opposite of Jim in every way but it’s because of Harvey that Jim will live to see another day in Gotham.

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