A few minor characters – essential to keep the story moving – sometimes push themselves into more than one book. Naturally, if you’re writing a series, it’s a good idea to feature regular minor characters; besides offering some familiarity for the reader, they can grow with the main character too. That can be regarded as a given, also, for series characters: they need to develop and change as their story unfolds from book to book, rather than be untouched by preceding often traumatic events.
In my book Write a Western in 30 Days, I stated ‘While minor characters don’t need as much description, it’s useful to give each of them some identifying feature, whether the hair colour or nose shape. Or a humorous trait. If a barkeep simply serves the drink, don’t dwell on him too much; if however he has information to divulge to our taciturn stranger in town, then imbue the barkeep with a little more life.’ (p91).
This is true for any genre novel. Minor characters are there to add flavour, colour, texture, realism, even humour, and most importantly to move the story forward. They are not there simply for padding and inconsequential chat.
When building up your back-story (which may never see print), there are several instances where character motivation should be embedded. People generally don’t do something without a reason. They’re motivated by pride, greed, altruism, love, anger, jealousy, hate and a lot more besides, much of which is created in their past.
In my book The $300 Man, Lydia hates Mexicans, because her husband found love and solace in a Mexican woman’s arms. The child of that union was Corbin, the hero – so she doesn’t like him, either – his mixed race is a constant affront to her. So her past shapes how she feels towards the Mexican workers at the silver mine in the story. Her past provides her with powerful motivation for her current actions and intent.
Certainly, incidents or people in their past might return to haunt them. By building a past for your characters, they cease to be made of cardboard. Within a short while, they’ll seem alive. And to a certain extent this applies to minor characters as well.
Somerset Maugham has said that every action of a character must be the result of a definite cause – significantly related to the entire fiction, of course.
Each motive must be in keeping with the character’s behaviour pattern that you’ve established. Otherwise, you lose credibility; again, consider applying this to minor characters.
In Last Chance Saloon (2008), which takes place in 1866, Jonas the deputy sheriff is featured; he’s in love with an older woman, Ruth, a widow; the relationship is not resolved at the end. A year later, 1867, there’s a passing mention of Jonas and Ruth in Blind Justice at Wedlock (2011), ‘Ruth Monroe who’d scandalised the town with her new beau, Deputy Johnson, a man some thirteen years younger than her.’ However, in Old Guns (2012), which mainly takes place in 1892, we see that they are now happily married and Jonas is the town’s sheriff. Of course, their descriptions have aged in the intervening quarter-century!
My main protagonists in Blood of the Dragon Trees, a modern-day thriller set in Tenerife, are Laura Reid and Andrew Kirby, aged 25 and 34 respectively; they are fighting the trade in endangered species, among other things. In Catalyst, the first in a new crime series, the hero Rick and heroine Cat meet up with a private eye in Barcelona who is instrumental in helping them obtain incriminating evidence; the private eye is half-English, half-Spanish, Leon Cazador, whose cases are told ‘in his own words’ in Spanish Eye. At the end of Catacomb, the second in the ‘Avenging Cat’ series, the plot necessitates that the hero Rick fled with a minor character to Tenerife, leaving behind the heroine Cat in Morocco. The sequel Cataclysm then logically begins with a villain from Blood of the Dragon Trees escaping police custody in Tenerife and doing harm… which involves Rick and, ultimately, Cat, Laura and Andrew!
These inter-relationships move the story forward, create additional threat, and hopefully keep the reader turning the pages wanting to know what will happen to people they’ve come to know vicariously; I hope too that regular readers will enjoy meeting some of these characters again. However, it is not essential to following the novel to have read all of the linked books.
To a certain extent, these characters elbowed their way into the books I write. Life is stranger than fiction, so it’s not too outlandish to postulate that some characters will know each other in different works! Well, that’s my excuse, anyway.
I’m not alone in this, of course; plenty of authors return to minor characters in their books. Perhaps you can think of a few?
Blood of the Dragon Trees - paperback and e-book
Amazon UK here (it has clocked up 8 good reviews, but for some reason no more than that, sadly)
Spanish Eye - paperback and e-book
Amazon UK here
Catalyst - paperback and e-book
Amazon UK here