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Incidental Characters That Make Your Novel Zing

Minor characters are part of your cast of characters. They come “on stage” from time to time and serve specific purposes in the story. They don’t have huge, front and center roles, but they’re important to the overall plot.

The characters at NASA trying to get Mark Watney home from Mars in The Martian have bit parts, but without them, the story fails. Same with the crew of Watney’s ship, his pals who make the hard decision to turn around and go back for him, committing to many months’ delay in returning to Earth.

There are few moments with these minor characters, but if they were removed from the story, there would be no story to speak of. So, remember, they are only minor in the amount of stage time they have in the pages of your book. But they are not minor in value or purpose.

Incidental characters are in a different category. They can be removed from your story and it wouldn’t truly impact it. Their absence would not equate to novel failure. However, I will venture to say that sometimes it’s the incidental characters that add that special ingredient that makes a novel terrific and stand high above the mounds of other good novels.

It may perhaps be counterintuitive to say that incidental characters often have a big impacting role in a story, but I’d like you to pay close attention to this and consider how you might work incidental characters into your story. Continue Reading…

Coming Up with Antagonists for Your Novel

Last week we took a brief look at secondary characters who play a supporting role in your novel—who help bring out the good qualities and personality of your protagonist. It’s common to find two or three unique characters who are allies to your hero.

But, of course, conflict is key in a novel, and you need opposition. That can come in the form of one specific antagonist or nemesis character. But it can also be a group or society or the system. If your novel is about man vs. nature, your opposition might be a tornado or an earthquake.

Regardless of your plot and type of opposition, unless your story is about a person isolated from others, you will need a supporting cast. And that usually includes antagonists.

I gave some passage examples last week from my Western novel Colorado Dream (I write under the pen name Charlene Whitman for that series). We looked at two characters who provide humor and support for my protagonist, Brett.

Here’s a moment with my two secondary antagonists—the cowboys sent to kill Brett. You’ll notice I give Phineas, who doesn’t have a large role in my story, a lot of inner conflict. This sets him up to switch sides in the climax. I left out some paragraphs to trim this down for you. Continue Reading…

The Importance of Secondary Characters in Your Novel

Creating a cast of characters is a challenge for novelists. It’s a balance. You need just the right number of characters in just the right roles, and if you have too many, it’s clutter. Too few and your story is narrow and skimpy, possibly not reflecting real life. A protagonist that has no friends, doesn’t engage with coworkers, never talks to family, and doesn’t really go anywhere other than one or two locales (home, coffee shop, office) isn’t a believable character.

This is where secondary characters come into play. They require just as much forethought in their creation as primary characters.

Secondary characters are important to your story but don’t hold as major a role in your story as primary ones.

Don’t get too tied in knots over categorizing every character. The boundary line between primary and secondary characters is blurry. It’s not uncommon to see secondary and even incidental characters have POV scenes—it depends on the story.

For instance, the opening of a mystery might be in an unnamed killer’s POV for just that one scene. In a sense, you might think of that killer as an incidental character if there are few, if any, moments with that character. The novel might be entirely about the investigation, and maybe the killer is found dead himself by the climax of the novel. Continue Reading…

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