Are Your Minor Characters REALLY Necessary?

As you read through your work-in-progress, are you subconsciously wondering if you could thin out your cast? Are there too many folks cluttering your book? Are you worried that you have so many characters that your novel will rival the length of Gone with the Wind? Search the search engines no further, because on Writing Abby, learn how to analyze your minor characters' necessity. Are Your Minor Characters REALLY Necessary // Writing AbbyAre your minor characters REALLY necessary?

I know, it’s a loaded question. You’re probably attached to your cast by now, if you’re out of the planning stages. That’s why it’s so important to analyze your character crew before you start writing that first draft. What’s the use of writing, and fleshing out, several minor characters if they’re of no use in the first place?

That’s what we’re going to discuss today.

As student writers, we can’t afford to waste our time. Minor characters that add little to the plot are time-wasters. Minor characters that add nothing to the development of major characters are time-wasters. So, what can we do to make sure we don’t waste our time?

Analyze.

Analysis of our minor characters can determine whether they deserve to stay, or if they should be tossed with the Tuesday garbage. It’s easy to analyze our characters, especially minor ones.

You can start by doing something very simple.

Ask yourself the following questions when you’re questioning your minor character’s usefulness. (Oh, I crack myself up sometimes.)


Check Their Personality:
  • Does the minor character have a unique personality?
  • —Does the minor character have favorites/interests?
  • —Does the minor character have their own belief system?
  • —Does the minor character look differently than the other characters?
  • —Does the minor character sound differently than the other characters?
  • —Does the minor character act differently than the other characters?

Check Their Interactions:
  • Does the minor character have a unique speech pattern?

—Does the minor character sound differently than the other characters?
—Does the minor character have certain words they say when they experience certain emotions?
—Does the minor character have certain “fall-back” words, such as “like” or “um”?
—Does the minor character add anything to conversations he’s involved in?
—Does the minor character just respond to the major character’s remarks?

  • How often does this character talk with a major character?

—Does the major character take at least one action based on the minor characters words?
—Or does the major character reflect on the minor character’s words?
——If the latter, does the major character change an attitude, either internally or externally, based on the minor character’s words?
How often does this character talk with a major character?
—Does the major character take at least one action based on the minor characters words?
—Or does the major character reflect on the minor character’s words?
——If the latter, does the major character change an attitude, either internally or externally, based on the minor character’s words?


Check Their Impact:
  • Does the minor character take an action that alters the plot?

—Does the minor character do something that either positively or negatively affects the outcome of the plot?
—Does the minor character take part in the plot’s events?
—Does the minor character react/engage with the major character during the plot’s events?

  • Does the minor character have his own problems to deal with?

—Aside from the major character, does the minor character have situations that cause him significant trouble? (past experience, handicap, personality flaws, etc.)

  • Does the minor character exist solely to support the major character?

—Does the minor character ONLY show up when the major character seems to need him?

  • Does the minor character have his own interests aside from the major character?
  • Does the minor character have his own history aside from the main character?

—Does the minor character have his own family tree?
—Does the minor character have his own occupation?
—Does the minor character have his own past experiences?


By now, you’re probably wondering how to digest all this information. It’s a lot. If you survived all those questions, first off, congratulations! Second of all, there’s one more list. Don’t hate me. This final list is a list of categories. It’s the final evaluation of your minor characters. This list is to make sure that any extraneous character is REALLY extraneous, and not just another character that hasn’t been fully fleshed out yet.

Ready for the finale?


Check Their Story Role:

Guardian: This character is a teacher, mentor, or guide to the protagonist. He’s wise, or not, but he’s willing to help all the same.

Sidekick: This character is a friend, loyal to your protagonist, and supporting him no matter what.

Skeptic: This character is exactly what his title implies: he’s a skeptic, through and through. He doubts each action the protagonist takes, and isn’t afraid to say so.

Emotion: This character is downright emotional. He makes decisions based on his emotions. You know, a follow your heart kind of guy, even if that choice isn’t the best one.

Contagonist: This character wants what’s best for the protagonist, but ends up leading the protagonist down the wrong path each time.

Reason: This character is the exact opposite of the Emotion. He’s logical, and makes his decisions accordingly, even if he hurts someone in the process.

(Now, if you haven’t heard of Dramatica, you may not understand the terms laid out above. Read this article from Go Teen Writers to get a better idea of what we’re talking about.)

After all that, you’re probably wondering what to do. You’ve gone through the questions above. You don’t have the answers to some of them, but you were able to respond to most of them. You wrote down the others, and plan to answer them later. Then, you read the list. The finale. What in the name of Middle Earth are you supposed to do with that?

Well, a few things.

Go through the list again. Do any of the descriptions sound like your various minor characters? Write them down, like this:

Guardian: Minor B, Minor E
Sidekick: None
Skeptic: Minor A
Emotion: Minor D
Contagonist: None
Reason: Minor C

It’s all right if you don’t have minor characters to match these titles, at first. But, sooner or later, we’ve gotta bite the bullet and do some work.

Also, notice how in the list above, we’ve got some “none” answers in regards to some titles. That’s indicative of a lack of character dimension. Who wants to read a story where all the characters are emotional and get teary-eyed when they watch the last fifteen minutes of Where the Red Fern Grows? Have you ever read a story where the characters are all logical brainiacs, who always get things right?

Sound boring?

Because it is.

Don’t be that writer.

Also, you’ll notice we’ve got two characters under the “Guardian” title. So, we’ve got two characters fulfilling the same role, which makes one of them unnecessary and extraneous. And that’s bad.

So, continuing with the above scenario, let’s continue solving the problems. (Oh, Abby, you’re a comedy show walking, you are.)


Originally, I planned on including the entire article in this post, but it spanned over 2,000 words (!!!). Ain’t nobody got time for that. So, I cut it up into chunks. For some strange reason, unknown to little ol’ me, I can’t write about writing without the article rivaling War and Peace. I promise, promise, promise I’m not shortchanging you guys. If you REALLY want the full article attached to this post, I’ll do that. So, please let me know.

The next “chunk” deals with fixing those “None” spots we’re stuck with in the above example, as well as more information on what to do if you’ve got multiple characters filling the same role.

Stay tuned, as they say!


Tell me, are any of your minor characters unnecessary? How do you deal with them?

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2 thoughts on “Are Your Minor Characters REALLY Necessary?

  1. This is literal perfection. I used to vomit characters all over every story all the time, but I’d like to think I’ve gotten better. However, it’s always good to keep in mind that less is more and your techniques are on point. Thanks for sharing!

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