Fiction Writing: Major vs. Minor Characters

As you are developing your cast of characters for your novel, you will undoubtedly finding most of your characters falling into one of two categories – major character or minor character.

Major Character

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

These are the people that clearly make the major character list and 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.

But other people may help out your protagonist or antagonist. They even may have their own subplots.  These also are considered major characters. They are going to affect the story. But this list usually is a short one.

So for the Harry Potter series – Harry (protagonist), Ron and Hermione (sidekicks) and Voldermort (antagonist) are definitely major characters. Others include Headmaster/Professor Dumbledore, Professor Snape and Draco Malfoy to name a few. And with this example, there are some characters who might have been minor in the first books who play bigger roles later.

Minor Character

dialogueMinor 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.

In the Harry Potter series, minor characters include the Dursleys, Filch, and many of the other professors and students.

And in your own novel, there will be many characters who may fall in between 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. To read more about how much to develop minor characters – check out my post on that subject.



Killing off your characters

No matter what type of novel you are writing – thriller, mystery, romance – there may come a time when you need to kill off one or more of your characters.

This is challenging for some writers who grow attached to their characters. It can be equally hard for the readers when a favorite character dies.

I guess before I delve into this topic, I should divide these characters into two categories – minor characters and main characters.

It is quite easy to kill off minor character. Many times you and the reader are not as attached to them. I always think of a minor character as the first person killed in a horror movie. They are not usually well developed. No one has had a chance to really get to know and like this character before they die.

Criminal Justice uid 179165I write fantasy and in my stories are battles. It would be odd if no one ever died or was at least wounded. In the first book of my trilogy, Summoned, no one died until the battle at the end of the book.  As the trilogy progressed I got much better at willingly killing off some characters but they were all minor characters. Now some of them were not bit players but they were not major players. And none of them were written into the book just to die.

Adding a character just to knock him off always reminds me of a scene from the movie Galaxy Quest. One of the characters, Guy, is sure he is going to die five minutes into their mission as he isn’t important enough to have a last name.

Now killing off a minor character might be easy but it is something entirely different to kill a main character. In my trilogy, no major character on the protagonist’s side died. But in my current WIP there are quite a few battles. It would be unrealistic that only extras or minor characters would die. So I decided a main character needed to die.

Now you shouldn’t kill someone just because you or someone else thinks you should. You should only kill off a character if it will advance the story. This could mean that this person’s death contributes to the development of another character.  Take for example if a husband dies. His wife may have to step up in both his business and at home. Her character can go in a whole other direction than if her husband were still alive.

But don’t kill off a main character on a whim. You need to think of the consequence losing a main character will do to your story and the remaining characters.

If you are willing to kill off main characters, you can have your readers expecting the unexpected. They will know that everyone is at risk and that can add tension to your story.

So don’t be afraid to kill of a character but make sure you are doing it for the right reason – to advance your story.

M is for Main Character #AtoZChallenge

MjpgIt is the letter M today on the A to Z Challenge. I have previously written about antagonists, minor characters and sidekicks, but today I want to focus on the main character or characters in your novel.

I can’t stress enough that you need a well-developed main character for your novel. I can watch a movie or read a book that has a so-so plot if the main character is someone whom I like, am interested in/care about or can relate to.

Obviously, when developing a character, you will need their physical description (tall, blond hair, blue eyes, short, plump, scar on the forehead), but you need to know so much more than that. You need to know everything about them even if you don’t think it is relative to your plot.

You should know their family history, where they were born, who raised them, what happened to them as a child, their love life, his or her life experiences as each of these made your character into the person he or she is today.

Some areas to consider when developing your character…

1.)    What does he or she want?

2.)    Are there any obstacles they will need to overcome?

3.)    Who is their best friend? What is their family like?

4.)    Do they have any talents?

5.)    What is their strength? Weakness?

6.)    How do they look? How do they act? Do they have any unique mannerisms?

This is by no means a complete list.

Another great way to help develop your character is to interview them. Ask them some of these questions and more and let them answer in their own words.

Remember to give your character flaws and not just some random traits. There should be reasons behind those flaws.

Basically, you should know your character inside and out. By understanding their motives, their emotions and their response to what happens in your story, you will write better. You will write so your characters come alive for your readers and so then will your story.