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Creating Characters with Minor Character Roles

A few sources have said that if a character has no purpose in your story, then they shouldn’t be in your story. And I agree with them.

Unless you’re a god like George R. R. Martin and can wield multiple characters like veritable weapons, you will neither need nor manage to keep track of who does what when and why. Especially all the minor characters you’ll no doubt create for them.

Even Cassandra Clare has said she had too many narrators to keep track of in her Dark Artifices trilogy. And Cassandra Clare uses lots of characters in every book she writes. (Insert fan-girling moment here.)

I have distinguished between types of characters here, where we talked about major, minor and defining characters. This article focuses on the minor characters.

These are the characters who do shit to help your major characters achieve their goals. Characters like Robin (unless he’s in the Teen Titans) to Batman, like Hermione Granger to Harry Potter, like Jaskier/Dandelion to Geralt of Rivia.

The mentors, the sidekicks, the team behind the man. Remember these guys?

These are the characters on your protagonist’s team but aren’t the protagonist. Or they’re the antagonist’s henchmen but aren’t the antagonist. Have I lost you yet?

Excellent. Shall we dive in?

Your Hero’s Minor Characters

As mentioned here I’ve come up with four minor characters to aid your hero on their quest. These are the Sidekick, the Mentor, the Contagonist and the Sceptic. I’ll use examples from Buffy, Harry Potter and Batman to illustrate my points.

The Sidekick is your hero’s personal cheerleading squad. They’re the best friend who’s always willing to go do the thing. Think Ron Weasley or Xander Harris. Depending on the Robin, Jason Todd might be considered a Contagonist, but the rest are predominantly sidekicks before they ascend to the ranks of hero.

Ladies Having Tea

The Mentor is the one with all the knowledge, like how Hermione Granger always knows what to do in any given moment. Alfred Pennyworth is definitely a mentor, considering he’s damn near-omniscient, I’d even go so far as to suggest he’s the man ruling from the shadows.

The Contagonist is the character who’s on the side of heroes, but is not always working with the heroes. This is why I said Jason Todd is more here than he is a sidekick. Like Han Solo, Jason Todd is aligned with the white hats, but often works outside the set parameters of what defines a hero from Gotham.

Finally, the Sceptic. The character who often questions the holes in your hero’s plans, who makes your hero think about the moral cleanliness of their actions. The Sceptic is an important character as they, more so than the sidekick and mentor, cause the hero to think. Any character can fulfil any of the roles at any given time, but the Sceptic poses the thematic questions.

How do your characters stack up?

Minor characters can make or break your story. Here’s how to use them to your plot’s advantage. Click To Tweet

Your Villain’s Minor Characters

Please don’t fall into the Disney trap and have idiotic villains. Hades may as well have killed off Pain and Panic and murdered baby Hercules himself. The Evil Queen should have checked for Snow White’s pulse.

In my story notes, I have two ‘sidekicks’ for my villains. I have a Disk One Final Boss, and I have a Dragon.

The Disk One Final Boss is what American TV shows use for a mid-season break. In video games, this is the character you think is the bad guy, you defeat him, and then realise he’s not the Big Bad after all. He’s either working for the Big Bad, or he’s the red herring the Big Bad sent out to distract you from the Evil Master Plan. Buffy had the Anointed One take over after the Master died in series one, then Spike killed him off and caused a load of trouble, only to become crippled and get relegated to sidekick after Angel becomes evil for the rest of the series.

The Dragon is the top enforcer, the final villain the hero must get passed before they fight the Big Bad. Maybe your Dragon plans on killing the Big Bad for their own plans, maybe we never see the Big Bad and this is the one doing all the action (in The Witcher series, this would be Cahir, the one with the cheekbones, to Emperor Emhyr of Nilfgaard). In Disney films, the Dragon might be the bumbling villainous sidekick, like Iago or the original Diablo, or maybe they’re killed off to make the Big Bad even stronger.

Are you still with me?

Using minor characters to create complex stories

We have our protagonist, and we have our antagonist. Each has their own team, but how do we piece together our people into one cohesive and complex narrative?

First, I’d argue, we link the characters together. Everyone knows someone, and these someones know someone else. So too should your characters know people.

Your characters should know another of your characters. If they all link back to your hero, you get extra brownie points. This chain of ‘knowing’ is how the world works. You get a job because your friend knows a guy who works there, and it just so happens there’s an opening you’re interested in. You get money off your driving lessons if a friend refers you to their instructor.

If you’re stuck between plot development and creative solutions, maybe one of your characters knows another of your characters. In The Witcher episode “Bottled Appetites”, the elf healer Geralt took Jaskier to couldn’t solve the problem, but he knew someone else who might. And how many comic books have plots where the main character knows someone who can help, and we meet another famous comic character?

In any case, it’s an excellent excuse for further world-building and character relationship development.

Something to think about

Now we’ve looked at who stands behind your major characters, and who they know, it’s time to place them in the world you’ve created to see what they do.

I’ve said before that characters are what drives the plot, and this is also true of your minor characters.

In the Disney film Coco, and you’ll never hear me repeat that phrase, pre-movie, the villain named Ernesto de la Cruz tells Imelda Rivera that her husband left her to become a famous singer. Imelda then vows to never mention Hector again. By the time of the film’s beginning, Imelda’s reluctance to have Hector remembered has meant that Hector is barely clinging to the afterlife and Ernesto has gotten away with stealing Hector’s songs for a hundred years. It means that the hero, Miguel, meets Hector and doesn’t recognise his own ancestor.

Now, can you create something this wonderfully complex?

Let’s go and try.

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