Minor to Major, what to do?


Still Screaming
Still Screaming (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Once again, I’m back to a favorite topic of mine:  Characters.  I love characters, it’s the whole point of writing isn’t it?  To create these wonderfully in-depth characters that capture the imagination, loyalty, love/hate of our readers.  I remember the first character I feel in love with (literally).  David Eddings in his Belgariad Series created this character named Silk and *sigh* he was wonderfully fun, cool, and dangerous.  You see he was a thief/spy/merchant/prince… yes, in that order too and he was sassy in such a way…

Ah, love.  Yep, I dreamed about him too which I thought was a little weird, but tip of the iceberg because fast forward to the Mallorian Series and Eddings gave him a love interest… and it wasn’t me!  Damn it!

Yeahhhh – I think I betrayed the depth of my nerdiness with this confession, but it illustrates my point.  Characters in stories are meant to invest the reader.  They are supposed to be believable within the context of the story, make the reader care about them (though probably not to the extent I went).  There are three categories of characters in my opinion though if anyone has a different one, feel free to share.

Major:

These characters are the backbone of our story.  They are the people we follow, pursue, get to know as if they were part of our family.  They have history, issues, complaints, families, dark and foreboding thoughts they try to keep locked up and little white lies.  Writers know them as siblings that you both love and hate.  They camp out in our heads and, in general, make our lives miserable with their incessant nagging!

The more we write about the character, the louder their voice.  When you have more than two or three main characters it can get pretty noisy in our noggin.  But we make do by writing or having conversations with them.  It may even go something like this:

“Not yet, next chapter.  I promise….”, “No, I wouldn’t lie to you, but [insert name] over there hasn’t shown up for at least 20 pages, it’s his turn.”

Minor:

These characters add color to our story.  Normally they last maybe one or two scenes to help carry on the story or to give information to the main characters.  Perhaps they are the one to nudge the character in one direction or another.  We know their names, what they look like, and a tiny bit about their history if relevant to the story.  Usually minor characters don’t have a voice in our head, but the major characters may say to us: “You know, [insert name] is the person that annoys the hell out of me because they always tell me the truth.  I hate it, but I also need it.”

Second Generation Minor:

I made this title up as I haven’t heard it from anywhere else.  These characters are usually mentioned in passing.  A random thought of how would so-in-so handle the situation, or that a phone call from so-in-so told Ms. Major Character about where to find Mr. Minor Character.  Or the shrink that is the crackpot.  Never meet him in the story, but Ms. Major can’t stand the SOB.

If our stories lasts only one book, these categories stay nice and neat.  It’s easy to put everyone in their place.  However, I am learning that writing a second book with the same characters and world, but a different plot, is throwing my categories in disarray.  It’s maddening!

Let me illustrate:  In Memory Lane I had four characters that were more minor than major characters.  Dr. Rodgers (he didn’t have a first name in Memory Lane), Troy (no last name) who is also an assassin, Jack Bridgeport who is the Deputy Director, and Gloria who is Jack’s secretary.  The Doc had one scene and one mention in passing, Troy had one long scene, Jack had two, and Gloria had a total of one if you merge all the times she came up.

For Crescent Knights, however, all four of them jumped up in unison to scream “Pick me!  Pick me!”  Each of them wanted a bigger part, they want to play and hunt with the rest of the team.  I stared at them blankly then shrugged and said okay, why not?  I didn’t realize the effort it would take to move them from one category to another.  Rodgers received a first name, Troy earned a last name finally, and I’m learning about their history.

What is peculiar for me is the process for creating characters is that I start filling in details which brings them to life.  For these four, since they were partially established in Memory Lane, they already have a life so now I’m forced to listen to them fill in the details.

I think what annoys me the most out of this is that because I haven’t read any books about writing a series (haven’t looked for it either, but not even in passing) this was a complete surprise to me.  It wasn’t in the contract, it wasn’t discussed.  I feel like I stumbled into a deep, dark secret that will have other writers staring at me and saying:

“Duh, figured you knew that.”

 

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10 thoughts on “Minor to Major, what to do?

  1. Personally, I don’t write minor characters. There are characters who have stories that I don’t have room to tell, but I try to keep in mind that everyone is the hero of his or her own story.

    There is an excellent book, Chasing Spirits by Glynn James, in which the author takes a character who appears briefly in one of his other novels and writes that character’s life story.

    • I am not sure I understand what you mean about not writing minor characters. Do you mean that you do full character development on all characters or that you don’t write down the characters with an honorable mention?

      • What I mean that I don’t think of my characters as “minor” or “major”. I’ll admit that I develop some more than others, but in my head any of my characters could be the main character. I try to remember that all of the people who show up in my books have a life outside the story, and I like to know, at least for myself, what this character was doing prior to being “on-screen”, where he or she is going after this, and how the scene that they are in fits into the rest of the character’s life.

        I have huge amounts of material worked out for my world that will probably never make it into any of my books. Part of this is probably because I don’t plot in advance, so I’m never quite sure who is going to end up being important to the story.

        For example, one character that I originally thought was just going to be in one scene ended up being James’ sidekick for much of Cannibal Hearts. Working out the personality and motivations and a little bit of the history before I write a character into the book gives me a lot of flexibility.

      • Ah, I understand better. For me I know the basic info for my minor characters detail wise. Only second generation minor characters are name and general personality info only but they all have a voice.

        I have foumd for myself that if I get too bogged down in details the story doesn’t get written.

      • I’ve tried to map out the whole world but I get so caught up that my story stalls badly or, worse yet, I find I have nothing else to write for the story itself. It’s already in my notes and out of my head.

        Then again, that usually happens with science fiction and fantasy stories for me. Not for real world fiction.

  2. I can relate to your categories and as I am in the process of writing a sequel, I can also relate to them wanting to change categories. I have had to come up with names and histories which I hadn’t done before and then cross check them to make sure that I am not doubling up on something. Yep, wasn’t in the small print anywhere! 🙂

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