Write Right, Ya Ninnies:
Making That Character #1
First off, if anyone has ever told you you write wrong, tell them to stuff it. If they say it again, I’m obligated to pretend to fight them on your behalf.
Some people say minor characters don’t really matter. Some people use them like scenery in the background, and that’s okay if it’s just something like your character walking through a busy square. Then, you wouldn’t want to describe everyone—that would be tedious and not fun to either read, or write (who wants three pages taking about every style of clothing and hairdo that are being sported in an airport? Okay, probably someone, people are weird though. Don’t be a people, persons.)
I say, they are extremely important, no matter what you are doing with them. From the shop keeper you Main Character(MC) robbed, to the guy who was drinking by them that one time in the weird bar with crumbs on all the stools. They’re important.
Because they’re still people, they have stories, we just don’t know them. They definitely have stories though. Just like me, and you, and the person who checks you out at Kroger (not the machine. It does not, in fact, have a story, it’s just annoying). We all have stories, lives. But if the people in your story world are too flat, and all sound, or look the same, it will feel like one of those video games that uses ten voice actors for everything—I’m looking at you, Skyrim. And while that might not be the end of the world, it’s unimmersive, and unimpressive to say the least—especially when unlike voice acting, imagination is free, if some work.
So whether it’s just a person my Point Of View character notices because of the way they dress, or move, anyone they truly “see” instead of just, “People milled about the square,” should have something that sets them up as unique. A visible tick, odd clothing, a weird accent, interesting lines. Something, anything, that hints at their story. Perhaps the innkeeper is wary of strangers, the main character may not find out for three chapters why that was, maybe even never, but it adds a layer of depth. And lets be honest, there’s something wrong, and interesting, about any innkeeper who is afraid of strangers. Something is wrong there. And where something is wrong, there’s conflict, and a story.
So before you spit out that next cookie cutter minor character, stop for a moment and ask yourself three questions:
1) Do they have a defining physical feature that makes them worth the main character’s notice? Clothing? An eye-patch? Gold teeth? A creepy dead-inside stare?
2) Are they in a situation that would draw the MC’s notice? A bit of conversation they pass on the street that gives them pause? A knife fight with a grizzly bear? Singing bawdily as they walk down the street? Just can’t stop sneezing (hey, I don’t know what kind of story you’re writing.)?
3) What sort of traits do they have? Are they nice? Mean? Shifty?
Then pick some from as many of those categories as you need. For our wary innkeep it might be something like this:
Defining features: A burn mark across the back of his left hand he keeps trying to cover with his sleeve which isn’t quite long enough to reach.
His relevance to the MC: He’s the one the MC has to talk to in order to get a room in the inn.
Traits: Twitchy, avoids, eye contact, is afraid of strangers (you can add a reason, it might help to flesh them out, bit it might not be needed).
For just some random person the MC notices in passing, there doesn’t need to be as much, just one of those questions answered can take a character not worth noticing and turn them into someone who feels like a part of the world, instead of a cardboard cut out in the back drop.
Remember, your only budget is imagination! Go forth and create words!
Write right, ya ninnies!