How to Utilize the Extra Characters in Your Novel

Are you frustrated because you have some extra characters in your novel, and you have no idea about what to do with them? Worry no more, because this article explains exactly what you can do to use those extra characters -- easily. How to Utilize the Extra Characters in Your Novel // Writing Abby Remember two weeks ago, when Are Your Minor Characters REALLY Necessary? went live on Writing Abby? Well, here’s the follow-up post I promised you guys. Now, this is the complete continuation, so let’s review what went on in the last post.


You’ll remember the questions I asked about your minor characters. Also, remember how we talked about Dramatica and how we can apply it to our case? Here’s the explanation snippet:


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 supports 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, using the previously provided information, we came up with the following example:

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

Before I ended the last post, I said we needed to fix certain spots in the example. I mentioned the empty spots we have up there, and the double characters we have in the Guardian roles. So, with all that said, let’s talk about how we can fix those problems.

USING EXTRA CHARACTERS

In our made-up scenario/example above, we’ve got two empty slots, indicating that we don’t have characters filling those roles. They’re labeled as “sidekick” and “contagonist”.

We’ve already got a potential extraneous character in the guardian section. That character would make an excellent candidate for a “character redesign”. Or, what I like to call, “He filled both roles because he ate too many donuts for breakfast.”

If we were to re-design our extraneous “guardian” character, we might be able to fit him in the “contagonist or “sidekick” roles. Here’s how:

Option A: We can create a Guardian character who thinks he knows what’s best for the protagonist, and teaches him accordingly, but his advice leads the protagonist down the wrong path.

Option B: We can create a Guardian character who has taught the protagonist how to act/fight/breathe fire, and is therefore an ardent supporter of the protagonist — for better or worse.

See? That wasn’t hard at all, wasn’t it?

Let’s pretend we chose Option A. Now, our character chart looks like this:

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

FINDING ROLES FOR CHARACTERS

Currently, we only have five characters, excluding “Walk-On” roles. Which is good! The less characters for a reader to keep track of, the better. Readers hate to be confused. If we make them do actual work (isn’t reading supposed to be fun?), we risk giving the reader an unpleasant experience. Which is bad.

(Of course, that sentiment varies from genre to genre, but for the sake of this article, let’s keep the character count down to a minimum.)

To re-cap: we’ve furthered our character dimensions, and saved an addition (and deletion) of a character. You guys are so smart.

We’ve still got that pesky sidekick to deal with, though. But, now we’ve got the skill(z), to correct that.

We could either create a whole new character, or find a way to expand an old character into another role. You choose. Six characters in a story doesn’t equal immediate publishing doom. If you find another character except Minor E to expand into another role, then all’s good.

If we ended up expanding Minor E, we’d risk assigning too many roles to a single character. The reader won’t be able to identify which character fills what role. The character will end up flat, with little personality, because you’re trying to stuff too much personality into him.

Plus, based on the scenario we laid out above, the Contagonist title will conflict with the Sidekick title. Most of the time, it’s not plausible for a character to fill three roles. Have you met anyone who’s displayed Guardian, Sidekick, and Skeptic tendencies? That’d be one contradictory dude.

We’ve still got to deal with our sidekick problem, though. If we were to create a new character, we’d have a total of six characters in our cast. Which isn’t a bad thing, but if we just didn’t want to create another character, or if that many characters is illogical within your story-world, we still have alternatives. We can assign another role to a character, as we did with Minor E. But, we’ve got to do it logically. We don’t want to end up with a situation akin to the contradiction laid out above. You know, the whole Contagonist/Sidekick deal.

Let’s go through the possible match-ups, so ya’ll can see how it’s done.

Guardian/Sidekick:

We’ve got two guardian characters. One hasn’t been assigned a second role, and another who has. The second character can’t take on another role. He’s busy enough as it is.

So, let’s look at the first character: Minor B. We already discussed the idea of making a Guardian character into a double-roled Guardian/Sidekick character, so we already know this is possible. Remember this quote a few paragraphs back?

“We can create a Guardian character who has taught the protagonist how to act/fight/breathe fire, and is therefore an ardent supporter of the protagonist — for better or worse.”

The Guardian/Sidekick combination is plausible. Let’s check that box.

Now, for the second character.

Sidekick/Skeptic:

The Skeptic is, well, a skeptic. Literally. He’ll question everything the protagonist does. Every idea the protagonist comes up with is a bad idea. He doesn’t agree with anything the protagonist says. Needless to say, the Skeptic is not the protagonist’s biggest fan. Probably not the best choice for a Sidekick, in my opinion.

However, if we were to write a positive character arc for our Skeptic, and let him grow to like the protagonist — we’ve got ourselves a Sidekick, but we’re out a Skeptic. Although, if the character arc is completed near the end of the book (and I highly recommend that), I suppose the impact wouldn’t be too severe.

Sidekick/Reason:

The Reason is exactly the opposite of the Emotion. He’s the logical voice of the cast. He’s probably not the best candidate for a Sidekick because of that.

If the protagonist does something illogical, and chances are he will, the Reason will be the first person to speak up.

Unless, the protagonist is logical, and makes logical decisions until the Third Act of the story. Then, he must rely on his emotions in order for him to succeed. In that situation, it’d make sense for the Reason character to support the protagonist as his Sidekick, until the protagonist chooses his emotions over logical reasoning. After that, the Emotion character could take over, and the Reason character transferred to another role.

Sidekick/Contagonist:

Now, this is an interesting combination. Can you just imagine the possibilities? A BFF who adores the protagonist, but somehow doesn’t see how much he’s leading the protagonist down the wrong path. I noted that we could create a Guardian character who thinks he knows what’s best for the protagonist, and teaches him accordingly, but his advice leads the protagonist down the wrong path. It’s basically the same thing.

Intriguing, is it not?

Let’s check that one off on our list of possibility.

Sidekick/Emotion:

Remember, the Emotion bases his decisions on his emotions. He doesn’t consider the logical aspects of his choices. He is only concerned about the emotions behind them. This character is an excellent candidate for a Sidekick.

Why? Since this character bases his decisions on emotions, he wouldn’t care what the protagonist does — the Emotion would still support him, if he felt it was the right thing to do.

Again, checking the box of probability.

Breathe a sigh of relief, folks, we’re all through. Let’s go back over what we’ve deduced. Because of forgotten it already.

Sidekick/Guardian: Absolutely!
Sidekick/Skeptic: Plausible, Not Advisable
Sidekick/Emotion: Absolutely!
Sidekick/Contagonist: Absolutely!
Sidekick/Reason: Plausible, Not Advisable

There. Isn’t that better? We can see which potential character roles suit our new Sidekick character. However, there’s still something that I feel is important to address. Those character roles labeled “Plausible”, aren’t to discourage you from writing those characters. The labels are to indicate that those characters might be harder to write than the others, since we discovered some flaws in their coupling in our analysis.

So, now that I’ve said all that, we need to pick one. Let’s choose a Sidekick/Emotion character. That’s an easy rascal to write.

After that choice, our chart looks like this:

Guardian: Minor B, Minor E
Sidekick: Minor D
Skeptic: Minor A
Emotion: Minor D
Contagonist: Minor E
Reason: Minor C

Can you see what’s wrong with the above chart? If you guessed there’s something amiss with the “Guardian” section, you’re correct. We’ve still got one, extra character stuck up there. And he’s not doing anything. Darn it. Well, back to work we go.

DELETING EXTRANEOUS CHARACTERS

So, you’ve gone through all the questions, you’ve found roles for your characters, and now you’ve arrived at this junction. Because of one, lousy straggler. Oh, happy day, more work. And heartache. However, this is a necessary evil, as thinning out our cast often fosters a more streamlined story. And that’s always a good thing.

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

Now, in this example, Minor B is extraneous. We’ve got to get rid of him, but how? Just do it, you might say. Delete him from the story, and get on with your life. Ah, yes, that’s a viable suggestion, but there are a few more things we can do with the little rascal. Like there always is. So, let’s break it down into a nice, numbered list. My Christmas in July present to ya’ll.

One: Delete all references to said character, and cry underneath the bed for an hour and a half.

Two: Merge the character’s traits into an existing, boring/un-fleshed out character.

Three: Save the character, and merge him into another story down the road.

Now, if you don’t know which option I’m in favor of by now, you aren’t my friend. (I’m kidding, ya’ll, I loves ya.)

If you aren’t sure, and don’t want to be disowned, here’s the answer: #2.

I’ll have a more in-depth post on how to merging extraneous characters later on, but I’d rather end the post on this mysterious note. Besides, you have plenty of other options to choose from. Well, I laid out two more, but you’re a writer. You’re creative. Think of something.


We’ve finally arrived at the end of a lengthy post. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to comment below. I shall reply as soon as I’m able. Plus, I love hearing from you guys.

How do you deal with extra characters? Have you analyzed your minor characters yet?

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3 thoughts on “How to Utilize the Extra Characters in Your Novel

  1. I love your character posts!! Your blog is my favorite so far and has helped me on my first novel (in progress). Could you post something about first drafts? Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Aw, I’m glad you like them, Dove! Character articles are my favorite kinds of posts. I guess it shows.

      I’ll definitely work on a post about first drafts. Thanks for the idea! First drafts are tough, aren’t they?

      Tell me about your WIP! What are you struggling with in your first draft, if anything? I’d love to hear about it. Do you have a name for your work-in-progress yet?

      Like

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