Major characters? Minor Characters? Where does everyone fit in?

This post is the fifth in a series about writing a novel. You can check out the list of past topics at the end of this post.

Last week, I gave a quick overview of ways to delve into naming your characters as well as establishing their backgrounds and characteristics. Most of what I wrote pertains to your major characters. You do not need to do as much (or sometimes any) work on minor characters.

Major Characters

Major characters include your protagonist, your protagonist’s sidekick and your antagonist (and perhaps his sidekick/major underling).

These are the people that are clearly going to impact your plot. These are the characters you will need to develop fully. You will need to know beyond their physical characteristics and personality traits and flaws. You will need to know their history and what happened to make them the way they are at the beginning of your story.

Sidekicks

Batman has Robin. Harry Potter has Ronald Weasley. Fred has Barney, while Frodo Baggins has Samwise Gamgee. And who could forget, Han Solo and Chewbacca. Yep, we are talking about sidekicks.

Not every hero needs a sidekick but they sure can help. A sidekick gives your hero someone to rationalize their actions to or discuss their options. But a sidekick can be more than a sounding board. They can offer support, help devise a way to defeat the bad guy and even come to your hero’s rescue. The sidekick often knows the main character better than anyone else and can give the reader a convincing reason to like the hero.

The key with any sidekick is to develop them fully. They should have their own virtues, faults, hopes, dreams, and problems. In other words, you need to develop them just as much as you develop your protagonist.

Antagonist

Your antagonist, the person that will try to thwart your hero and provide conflict for your story, is one of the most important characters to develop. Most authors spend a majority of their time developing their protagonist but don’t give the same effort to the “bad” guy.

Now typically when one thinks of the antagonist of a story – especially a fantasy novel – one thinks of the person as being a bad person – perhaps even evil. You, as the author, need to understand how they came to be like they are. Everyone has a reason for what they do. No one is evil just to be evil. It can be their quest for power, revenge, or even a mental disorder, but there needs to be something the drives this character. We are the culmination of our environment, our genetics, our past, and our choices. You need to know these things about your antagonist though all of them may never actually appear in your story. (Check out this list of motivations for antagonists.)

To help create a well-rounded antagonist, consider giving him some redeeming qualities. And by this I mean something other than he likes puppies. Almost no one is evil all the time. And remember that sometimes the bad guy wins. Not every instance does the hero of the story need to thwart the villain.

Of course, your antagonist does not have to be a bad person. It can easily be someone whose ideas don’t mesh with your protagonist. It could be a business partner who wants to have a successful business no matter what the cost. Your hero may also want the business to succeed but needs to be a man of integrity. These two characters are far from enemies, but their different needs pull them in opposing directions.

And your antagonist may not be one person but a group or even just an obstacle to overcome such as the fear of speaking in front of an audience. But you simply don’t have a story without an obstacle, conflict or bad guy so be sure to create a strong antagonist, and you will have a better, more believable story.

Minor Characters

Minor characters are the opposite of major characters. Very little is usually written about them. They may appear in a scene or two but aren’t likely to influence the outcome of the story.

Many of these characters are flat, two-dimensional types that could easily be replaced. As an author, you are not going to spend the time to flesh these people out before writing.

Heck, some of these minor characters may not even have names. The bartender or cab driver may be such a character. They may speak and interact in the scene, but their contribution is negligible.

There will be many characters who may fall in between major and minor but don’t waste your time trying to categorize each one. Simply decide how important they are to the story, and that will let you know how much time to spend on them.

For tips on dealing with a long list of characters in your novel, check out my post “Novel writing: Dealing with a large cast of characters.”

Next week, I will talk about the setting of your novel.

Previous topics

#1 – Deciding to write a novel – Writing Myths

#2 – Three areas to develop before starting to write a novel

#3 – Finding a Story Idea and How to Know if it “good enough”

#4 – Developing Characters for your Novel

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It’s that time again – the kids are back in school

The parents are celebrating today! School has begun for another year.

I love spending the summer with Lexie and Jase but there always comes a time when I am ready for my normal routine to return.

This morning brought an extra mix of nerves and excitement for Jase. It is his first day at middle school. Normally he would walk but since we are still dealing with the rain brought by this weekend’s hurricane, I opted to drive him.

Middle school will be so different from what he is use to. No longer does he just have one teacher. Now he has eight. He has to navigate the halls to each class and lunch is no longer the organized by class event it was last year. This past Thursday, Jase went to “Pup Camp.” (The name comes from the fact that the school mascot is a timber wolf and his grade is the lowest, newest grade at the school.) At “Pup Camp,” the sixth graders learn where their locker and classes are located. Jase was happy to find he has a class or two with some friends.

We did go back to the school the next day to let him practice opening the combination lock on his locker a few times. He finally got it down, and I know that makes him feel better that he won’t be struggling on the first day.

Since this is Jase’s first year at middle school, it means it also is the first year for Lexie to go to elementary by herself. She began fourth grade today. Her teacher is Mrs. Vandertulip. This was Jacen’s fifth grade teacher last year so Lexie is really excited to have her. Last Thursday she got to take her supplies to class and pick out her seat. She currently is sitting with a group of friends. But even if the teacher splits them up later, I don’t worry about Lexie. She is so outgoing and friendly that she will be fine with whomever she sits near.

And as always, her backpack carries a letter to her teacher. In it I fill Mrs. Vandertulip in on Lexie’s eczema, allergies and ADHD. We will have a special meeting with the teacher later in the year about Lexie’s health issues but I always like the teacher to have the info on Day 1. (Technically the teacher can review the notes from last year’s meeting but I like the personal touch.)

So now I am back at home and the house is quiet. People keep saying I will have tons of time on my hands but that isn’t true. I have two PTAs that I am active on and of course my latest novel to complete.  Before I know it, the kids will be home, excitedly telling me about their days. I’m looking forward to that.

Today’s Featured Author – Diana Rubino

Today, I welcome author Diana Rubino to my blog. Her time-traveling novel, Dark Brew, was released in July 2016.

Interview

Tell us a bit about yourself. 

My passion for history and travel has taken me to every locale of my books, and short stories, set in Medieval and Renaisance England, Egypt, the Mediterranean, colonial Virginia, New England, and New York. My urban fantasy romance, FAKIN’ IT, won a Top Pick award from Romantic Times. I’m a member of Romance Writers of America, the Richard III Society and the Aaron Burr Association. I live on Cape Cod with my husband Chris. In my spare time, I bicycle, golf, play my piano and devour books of any genre.

Where were you born and where do you call home?

Born in Jersey City, NJ, in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, and now call Cape Cod home with my husband.

Have you started your next project? If so, can you share a little bit about your next book?

I am now writing bio novels with no fictional characters, and have written 4 so far. I just began my next, which will be about Susan B. Anthony. I enjoy writing about strong women who shook things up, and call my books The Sassy Ladies Series.

Do you outline your books or just start writing?

I outline very thoroughly. I still use Donald Maass’s Writing The Breakout Novel Workbook, because it makes me explore every aspect of the storyline and characters, getting right down to minute details.

Please tell us about your current release.

My last book to be released is Dark Brew, a time travel romance.

What inspired you to write this book?

The story took 12 years from start to finish. I’m a longtime member of the Richard III Society, and in the spring of 2004, I read an article in The Ricardian Register by Pamela Butler, about Alice Kyteler, who lived in Kilkenny, Ireland in 1324, and faced witchcraft charges. After her trial and acquittal, she vanished from the annals of history. I couldn’t resist writing a book about her.

How did you come up with the title?

I originally called it Strange Brew, but thought Dark Brew was more dramatic and compelling. It refers to the herbal brews Kylah, the modern heroine, mixes and drinks to transport her to 14th century Ireland, to solve the mystery that consumes her life today, and her past life then.

What kind of research did you do for this book?

I thoroughly researched Druids, because Kylah is a practicing Druid. I also researched Alice Kyteler…I found a book about her trial that explained all the details about how the church influenced the court in 14th century Ireland.

Did you base any of your characters on real people?

Alice actually lived, along with the judge, her lawyer, her husband and stepsons who lived in 14th century Ireland, but all my characters in modern times are fictional, not based on anyone.

Which of your characters is your favorite? Do you dislike any of them?

I’d say Kylah is my favorite, as she’s determined to travel to her past life to right an injustice, and she’s very brave to attempt living in those times, which were very dangerous.

Can you tell us a little about the black moment in your book?

The black moment occurs when Kylah is accused of murdering her husband Ted and arrested. I don’t want to give anything else away.

What was the most difficult thing/scene to write in this story?

Time travels (I’ve written 3) are difficult in general, and since Kylah is the reincarnation of Alice, I found it difficult to describe what she experienced emotionally and physically as she traveled back in time. I also found it difficult to write the scenes in which she’s accused of murdering her husband, because she was innocent. It made me realize how much injustice is in the world.

If you could be one of the characters from any of your books, who would it be and why?

I would like to be Eliza Jumel Burr, who became the richest woman in New York City, a very astute businesswoman, and solved two murders. She led a fascinating life.

If you could jump in to any book, and live in that world, which would it be?

I’ve always wanted to spend a few days in the court of Richard III, and see what life was like in 1483-5.

Do you have a specific snack that you have with you when you write?

I always have a jar of nuts at my side to munch when I get peckish. And always a glass of water in reach.

Do you have an all time favorite book?

Oh, so many….but one of my faves is THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF HENRY VIII by Margaret George. She puts you right there in Henry’s world. A CROWN FOR ELIZABETH, which I read in high school, is also another favorite.
I read a trilogy of novels when I lived in London, which are set in London, the first is THE L-SHAPED ROOM by Lynne Reid Banks. I read these over and over, never grow tired of them.

What book are you reading right now?

I usually read two or three at the same time, so I’m reading THE ROGUE LAWYER by John Grisham and
George Washington A Life in Books by Kevin Hayes, about the books Washington had, combined with a timeline of what was going on in his life as he acquired each book.

If you could meet two authors, who would you pick and why?

Neither are alive–Edgar Allan Poe and Charles Dickens.

Tell us a random fact about you that we never would have guessed.

I’m a big believer in the paranormal and have gone on many paranormal investigations, though I have no psychic ability.

Book Blurb

DARK BREW

A time travel romance
Learn from the past or forever be doomed to repeat it.


Accused of her husband’s murder, Kylah McKinley, a practicing Druid, travels back through time to her past life in 1324 Ireland and brings the true killer to justice.

Two months of hell change Kylah’s life forever. On her many past life regressions, she returns to 14th century Ireland as Alice Kyteler, a druid moneylender falsely accused of murdering her husband. Kylah’s life mirrors Alice’s in one tragic event after another­ she finds her husband sprawled on the floor, cold, blue, with no pulse. Evidence points to her, and police arrest her for his murder. Kylah and Alice shared another twist of fate­ they fell in love with the man who believed in them. As Kylah prepares for her trial and fights to maintain her innocence, she must learn from her past or forever be doomed to repeat it.

About the Author

My passion for history has taken me to every setting of my historicals. The “Yorkist Saga” and two time travels are set in England. My contemporary fantasy “Fakin’ It”, set in Manhattan, won a Romantic Times Top Pick award. My Italian vampire romance “A Bloody Good Cruise” is set on a cruise ship in the Mediterranean.

When I’m not writing, I’m running my engineering business, CostPro Inc., with my husband Chris. I’m a golfer, racquetballer, work out with weights, enjoy bicycling and playing my piano.

I spend as much time as possible just livin’ the dream on my beloved Cape Cod.

You can find out more about Diana on her website or her blog. You can also follow her on Twitter or Facebook.

You can purchase Dark Brew for the Kindle or in paperback on Amazon.

Developing Characters for your Novel

This post is the fourth in a series about writing a novel. You can check out the list of past topics at the end of this post.

Characters are one of the most important elements to your story. They are what drive the plot. Believable characters help bring readers into your fictitious world. You can tell I am a firm believer in taking the time to build your characters and their history. I have written about characters twenty eight times in the past five years. Now I am going to try and boil most of what I have said about them into just two posts.

At the very minimum, you should know the basics for every character – what they look like, what occupation they have and a general sense of what they want.

For your main characters (and some minor characters) you should know even more of their history. It is from this history that your character’s motivation will develop. Your plot is derived from these characters and their motivations. Motivation leads to action, which leads to more action. And it leads to problems and conflict. Without this, there is no plot.

So how do you fill out all this history and character traits on your characters? There are several methods. You can fill out a character worksheet, create a timeline or write a short narrative.

Character Profile Worksheet

This is a list of the physical description (age, height, manner of dress, etc.), personal characteristics (goals, hobbies, likes, dislikes, etc.), living situation (occupation, home, pets) and background (birthplace, education, family) of your character. The easiest way to know all these things is to fill out a character profile questionnaire. You can easily do a web search for one or check out the one here or here.

Timeline/Outline

Another option is to create a timeline or outline of your character’s history. Starting with their birth, add in other major events that happened to your character up until the time the story begins. These would need to be extensive for major characters and could be sparser for minor characters.

Narrative

And sometimes it is just easiest to write a few paragraphs about your character. Be sure to cover such basics – family life, education, likes, and major events and so on.

Knowing your character’s history isn’t always enough to know what motivates and drives them. You need their recollection of the events that made them into who they are today. A fun way to get to know your characters is to do a character interview.

Character Interview

In a character interview, you ask your character questions and answer back as if you are that character. This gives you a chance to explore some of their background from their point of view. You can pretend to be the police interviewing your bad guy, a therapist interviewing a patient, or perhaps you are interviewing them for a magazine as if they are a celebrity. It is a technique with lots of room to play and adapt to your specific needs. To find out more click here to read my post “The Character Interview: Getting to know your characters.”

Now, it is a lot of work to fully develop your characters. But the work will pay off. Your characters will seem more real. And you don’t need to do all this work for every character in your novel. You will want to spend more time developing major characters while minor ones will need less or almost no work. (More on minor characters next week.)

Names

There is one more area to talk about before we finish today’s post on characters. You need to name them – all of them. It can be a daunting task. If you thought naming your child was hard, naming your characters is just as hard. Of course, the most thought needs to go into your main character’s name. You want a name that is unique to your character, that your reader will remember, and that fits into your story, whether it be a fantasy, futuristic, historical or a modern piece.

I find a baby-naming books or websites to be a great resource for names. You can also check out yearbooks, genealogy records, or film credits.

Here are some tips to naming your character:

  • Steer clear of complicated, hard-to-pronounce names. If you do choose one, consider using a nickname to make it easier to the reader and other characters.
  • Don’t overuse unusual names or spellings. If your main character is Barnabus, name his sidekick Sam or Eric, not Hawthorne.
  • You should avoid having characters with similar names – Jon and Jan. You may also want to stay away from names that start with the same letter or same sound – like Phil and Fred.
  • Avoid nicknames or unusual names that will annoy the reader. For example, calling a man by what is traditionally a woman’s name or vice versa can create unnecessary confusion. Only do this if there is a real need for it in your story.
  • HISTORICAL NOVELS – you will want to look for a name popular or at least in use during the time period you have chosen. Do not pick a modern name (such as Jennifer) for a story set in the 17th century.
  • If your character was born in the U.S., browse through the Social Security Name Popularity List for that year.
  • You also should make sure your character is not a real person. Try Googling the names you choose.

Next week, I will address the different types of characters – major, minor, sidekicks, and antagonists.

Previous topics

#1 – Deciding to write a novel – Writing Myths

#2 – Three areas to develop before starting to write a novel

#3 – Finding a Story Idea and How to Know if it “good enough”

Virtual Book Tour – Nicole Benoit-Roy

Today, author Nicole Benoit-Roy stops by my blog as part of her What I Gain Through His Pain Virtual Book Tour. This Christian non-fiction came out in July.

Excerpt

Something Fishy

Daddy practiced Voodoo, but even as a child I considered it foolish. During summer vacations in Haiti, the family expected my sister, my next younger brother and me to go to Lèogane. As the summer months drew to a close, my father lined up every child in the house to bathe us with a special Voodoo water made with crushed leaves.

As I got older (though not much older), I grew to detest the act and so I decided not to go on vacation anymore. I thought it ridiculous to allow myself to be bathed with stinky water. I never believed in the Voodoo stuff either. I had a good sense of who I was since early childhood. I knew God made me, and no evil could harm me (Now I know evil can’t touch me without His permission). That knowledge made me very bold and never afraid of any Voodoo stuff. My father had a special table with a white small washbasin and other Voodoo items on it. No one was supposed to touch them. However, on many occasions, I pretended to be cleaning just to touch and rearrange everything on that table. I held no fear. I just knew they lacked any authority over me. It’s weird though, no one told me that Voodoo held no potency. It was always a gut feeling. I was always very bold about expressing my belief every chance I got.

My father use to hold Voodoo ceremonies where kids in the house were expected to eat out of special wooden bowls. All that I shunned eventually. Because my brother Kesnel and sister Carol were twins, the ceremony held every year honored the twins (a Voodoo ritual) even though Carol died as a baby. Those were the kinds of things that made no sense to me, leading me to refuse to take part in them as soon as I grew old enough to say no. With me so hardheaded and strong-willed, no one in my family could force me to take part once I said no. Not even my father.

On one occasion, something terrible happened in my family, causing my father to be the focus of suspicion. I felt his pain afterward. He needed so much to have someone on his side. Unfortunately, not even his favorite little girl was willing to be that someone.

In desperation, one evening in Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti, he pulled me aside. In a private conversation, he explained his own version of the incident after he visited my mother in the U.S. in 1982 for the first time.

He said, “Nicole, I know you’re getting older. You can understand what I’m about to tell you.”

I was 14 years old then.

“When I went to New York,” he continued, “I swear I did not take your mother’s soiled panties. It’s only after I came back to Haiti I saw them in my suitcase. I swear I did not take them.”

I listened attentively, but my eyes stared at the cement floor as we sat on the edge of my bed.

“You believe me, don’t you, my girl.” He held onto my left arm as if begging me to say yes.

I’d heard the rumor that he wanted to use her underpants to hurt my mother through witchcraft so often that I’d already made up my mind of his guilt.

My father returned to Haiti finding himself in an awkward predicament. At that age, I was naïve and awfully honest.

“Well, I can’t say whether you did it or not. I wasn’t there. You’re the only one who knows if you did it or not,” I said.

Suddenly, the look he gave me told me he wanted another answer. His eyes turned red. His pain turned into hatred.

I knew then I was not his favorite little girl anymore and I would pay.

In retrospect, I realized I could have answered differently had I known better. I still feel his pain even now as I write about it.

As soon as my mother found out her panties were missing, she demanded that my father purchase a plane ticket and return them to her.

When he did, she burned them in his presence.

My father continued to make his regular weekly visits from Lèogâne bringing us fresh produce every time. Our relationship was never the same, however. At times, I’d purposely stayed away to avoid seeing him altogether, not showing up until after he left. He was the enemy of the family. He knew it. That made him very uncomfortable and angry.

During one of his visits, he threatened to beat me because I did not greet him. Of course I put up a fight. He tried to pin me to the ground. I escaped from his grip and ran to a nearby stony hill. I picked up a stone and made the motion to throw it at him, but an invisible power stopped me. I knew Who kept me from flinging the stone, and I’m glad He did. Deep down inside I really loved my father. I believed that he gave me so much love and attention that he made it possible to never feel insecure about myself.

During my college years at Stony Brook University in New York, our father-daughter relationship remained broken. I recall lying on the bed in my dorm room reminiscing about my childhood. My entire family lived in the U.S. by then. My mom and dad separated shortly after the panties incident, although they waited to divorce until eleven years later. I finally realized the pain my father must have gone through to have his whole family against him, and the pain he continued to feel every time he and I met.

“Look at Nicole, the daughter I loved so much. Now, she can’t even talk to me,” he sometimes said.

At that time, we were on greeting terms. As I empathized with my father, I decided to put an end to our broken relationship. I picked up the phone.

“Hello,” he said.

“Hi, daddy, how are you?” It felt uncomfortable saying “daddy” but I also realized that doing the right thing was never easy.

“Who’s this?” he asked.

“This is Nicole,” I said. “I just call to tell you that I love you. Bye.”

“Ok,” he said.

I hung up the phone, feeling a burden lift from my chest.

For the first time I began to understand the power of forgiveness. I still had a long way to go.

Our relationship continued to improve after that phone call. My father is now ninety-two years old, and I love him as if nothing ever happened between us.

The Bible says in Deuteronomy 5:16, “Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God has commanded you.” (NLT). I desire to obey God’s Word. Through this experience, I learned that making mistakes is what we (humans) specialize in the most. What’s essential is that we learn from them.

Book Blurb

In a society filled with easy Christianity and cheap grace, Nicole Benoit-Roy takes her relationship with Christ to a much deeper level. Since becoming a Christian, she has been learning about her newfound Savior, Jesus Christ. She is an educator who vows to be a student for as long as she lives. The more she learns about the cross of Christ, the more she realizes the importance of it in her life. As she meditates on His suffering, she concludes that His pain is the reason for every blessing in her life. In this book, “What I Gain Through His Pain,” she shares her story about the benefit of the cross as she expresses gratefulness for His pain.

About the Author

Nicole is currently pursuing her doctoral degree in educational leadership at Andrews University. She directs the Children Ministries Department at her church. She works as a special education teacher by day, a literature evangelist by night, and writes during the wee hours of the night. She enjoys reading and playing the piano (beginner). Nicole struggled with college writing, which lead her to eventually drop out. For this reason, one of her many goals in life is to become a best-selling author to the glory of God. Nicole and her husband, Roosevelt Roy, have been married since 1994, and are the proud parents of a handsome brown-eyed son, Nolan. They currently live in Brooklyn, New York.

You can find out more about Nicole on her website or follow her on Twitter or Facebook.

You can purchase What I Gain Through His Pain on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.