Interesting minor characters can enhance the realism and world building of a novel and even become fan favorites (such as Boba Fett from Star Wars or Agent Coulson from the Marvel movies.)
But developing minor characters can take lots of time– time that frankly can be spent better elsewhere on more central aspects to your story. After all who really cares about the shopkeeper who sells your hero a dagger?
So here are twelve quick and easy ways to make your minor characters interesting
- Give them a theme song: Pick one of your favorite songs, hopefully one with meaningful lyrics, and base your minor character’s personality, hopes, or struggles off the lyric (only make sure not to accidentally quote the song in your writing.)
- Associate them with a specific color: Assign the minor character a specific color, and then associate that color and the feelings that the color invokes with the character (might be the color that they are wearing or the color of their eyes), but make sure that you place subtle hints about the connect between the color and the character’s personality.
- Associate them with a specific type of weather: Whenever this minor character appears, have the weather doing the exact same thing. Because we are writers, we can get away with things like this– especially if we do it subtly and use the weather as a metaphor for the character’s personality. For instance, if you have a minor character that is very calm and peaceful, you might have them appear in a light rain shower and appear to be very comfortable with or even connected to the rain.
- Give them a MBTI personality: Myers Briggs listed 16 different personality types. Pick a random one for a minor character, do five minutes of research on the personality type, and then write. It is as easy as that.
- Give them a sibling, parent, or friend: No one is completely alone in the world– not even your minor characters. For this tip, all you need to do is mention that the minor character has a sibling, parent, friend, etc. and then imply their relationship with them. You might be surprised how this deepens a minor character.
- Give them a unique physical trait: Do they have a limp? Or perhaps they wear unique clothing or have mismatching eyes? Did you know that there is even a disease that makes your skin turn purple-blue? (Okay, maybe don’t do that one– that would probably be too unique and be too distracting for the reader, but you get my point.)
- Make them funny, pessimistic, or roguish: You could make them have one funny, sarcastic, or joking line, or have them pessimistically put down your main characters, or you could even turn them into a rogue by attempting to steal something from your main characters and then laughing it off.
- Or make them all around awesome: You could do this by their cloths, stance, occupation, or attitude. Think about Boba Fett (Star Wars): he had some wickedly scarred armor with a cool helmet, and then managed to serve the Empire while getting the best of the deal (the bounty on Han Solo). That is pretty awesome right?
- Give them their own goal: Pick a simple goal for the minor character. Maybe they want to travel the world, get married, or become the village blacksmith. You can reveal a goal like that simply enough in a couple lines of conversation.
- Give them one interesting backstory: Or you could come up with one interesting back story. Maybe they feel off a horse as a child as permanently injured their leg, or their wife died a couple years back. Don’t go into details, just think of a single story quickly.
- Give them a real job: If you minor character doesn’t already have a job, why not give them one? Maybe you find out that they work at the local tavern when not gallivanting around with your heroes or perhaps the spy for your characters is actually a blacksmith during the day.
- Make them have their own life philosophy: This option can be humorous, annoying, or helpful for your main characters. But what is better than having a random stranger, this minor character, try to give your main characters life wisdom? Was the wisdom good, bad, or did the minor character so completely misunderstand your main characters that the advice is just funny?
Depending on how minor your character is and how often they appear, giving the character one of these twelve features will probably be enough to make them interesting. Some of the tips are quicker than others, but I think that all serve the job of making minor characters more interesting.
So how do you make interesting minor character? Or do you even bother? I mean, many minor characters might not be worth the extra effort. How do you make that call?