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

Animals as props or characters in your novel

In the past, I have written about using cats as characters since there are cat-like creatures in my fantasy trilogy, The Elemental. Today, I want to focus on using any type of animal in your novel, whether they are there just as an animal or as a character within the story.

Okay before I begin, I guess I have to differentiate between just having an animal and having a character that just so happens to be an animal. If your character is feeding the chickens or walking her mom’s dog than most likely these are only animals in the story. These animals are more like props to help set a realistic scene rather than integral to the story telling.

horse faceHowever, if the horse your hero rides has a habit of biting people, being stubborn or making his own decisions and these traits play a part in the story, then, in my opinion, your animal has gone from just being a prop to being a minor character. In my case, my animals play a much bigger role as they even communicate telepathically with the humans and in some cases major characters.

When including animals in your novel – whether as story props or as a character – you need to know how these animals would behave. It helps if you have spent time with the animal and know how it moves and reacts. I choose cats as I am a cat lover and have been around cats my entire life. I like to think that my knowledge of cats comes through in my writing and that my cat characters behave in ways you expect cats to behave.

If you don’t have personal experience with the animal you are writing about there are lots of options for you to read up on their behavior or better yet watch videos of the animal to help make your descriptions accurate and realistic. Again, research is key.

Now having animals as characters is not limited to fantasy writing. Many other authors use animals as characters such as Rita Mae Brown in her Mrs. Murphy mysteries or Lillian Jackson Braun in her Cat Who series.

One thing you will need to decide when including animals as characters is how they will communicate with humans or other animals. Will the animals speak to each other as they do in Charlotte’s Web or will they be restricted to animal-like behavior such as the cats Koko and Yum Yum from Braun’s mystery series? Animals can convey a lot non-verbally.

Tosh

Tosh – the telepathic “cat” from my THE ELEMENTAL trilogy

Or perhaps they can communicate with humans. It is your world, so they could talk or be telepathic as my “cats” and dragons are in my trilogy. You could even change the animals behavior to include things we mere Earthlings would be shocked to see but could be the norm for the people of the world you create. So animals could be able to pick up items, walk on two legs, smoke a cigar or open doors while here we just expect them to meow or purr.

Just remember that if you are using animals as a character, you will need to develop them as you would any other character. This goes beyond their physical description. They need a history, their own quirks and problems. In other words, you need to do the work to make the real to your readers.