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Welcome to The Inkwell, the blog site of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) of Colorado.

Each week on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, you can find a wide variety of topics and insight
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Monday, January 4, 2010

Minor Characters That Strike a Chord

So, if it wasn't hard enough to develop your main characters, now it's necessary to pull your minor characters off the page! Why? I don't know. I heard that somewhere.

And ever since I heard it, I've worked at making those walk-ons people the reader wants to get to know better. At least, that's the goal.

So, how do you give depth to a character that is in only one scene? Well, in Merely Players, (currently available through Amazon in the 3-in-1 bundle, Florida Weddings) I had a character show up in the last quarter of the book. He was a helicopter pilot tasked by the hero to take him over a hurricane devastated area so he could find the girl he nearly left behind--for the second time. At first, I wrote this character into a long scene that I had to cut, so I knew quite a bit about him by the time I was through. In the end, instead of spouting off about his war missions, I simply gave him a ball cap that read "POW-MIA Lest We Forget." Now, we instantly know that since he's flying a Vietnam era copter and has that hat on, this man has a history. He's not just a flat walk-on.

In God Gave the Song, available here, I had a blast creating a gaggle of hippies, all fifty-ish women who still went by the names Lark, Daisy, Saffron, Quail, and Emerald Dawn. Oh, and Agnes, who, according to the hero, Skye, could have benefited from a flowery name.

In the following excerpt, I use description to give an earthy, tie-dyed, groovy picture of the Bohemian flock:

Paul noticed Skye and shook his hand. “Hey, glad you could make it. Ruthanne called me to say you were coming.” He looked down at her. “I notified the girls.”

Her hand flew to her open mouth. “You didn't!”

Skye looked at Ruthanne and then at Paul. “The girls?”

Ruthanne's gaze darted around the foyer as she placed her hand on Skye's arm. “Four of Hannie's friends. They are remarkable artisans and have sort of formed a club with Hannie as their leader.”

“What? Like the Ya-Ya Crafthood?”

“Something like that. They're all about the same age and—”

“There he is!”

Skye turned at the sound of a woman fast approaching him, her sandaled feet slapping the tiled floor. Short, burgundy hair adorned her head, and she seemed weighted down with the turquoise jewelry around her neck and on each finger. Three other women trailed after her like naturally greying tails on a brightly colored kite.

Oh, great! Granola-fueled earth mothers.

For a visual on how this is done, watch Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window. Jimmy Stewart has a broken leg and to pass the time, he watches his apartment dwelling neighbors out his window. We never meet any of the minor characters that he observes, but we know all about them by their actions. The most poignant being the one nicknamed Miss Lonely Heart, who can't seem to get an even break with the men she brings home. Just when it looks like she's about ready to kill herself with pills, a song drifts into the courtyard from the musicians that Stewart is also watching. She stops and listens to the song, and we know that she's decided not to commit suicide. Later, we see her in the apartment with the band, telling them how much she loves that song, and we know the song saved her life.

Minor characters should have their own song to sing, and it's up to us, the writers, to allow them their spotlight.


Jill Hups said...

So, I don't know why I bother buying all these writing books when I have you around. You're simply amazing! Thanks for sharing that insight. No wonder, years back, the LORD told me to apprentice with you. :)

Chris Richards said...

A great reminder that if a character is worthy of being in a story, they deserve to have a meaning to the story. Thanks for telling us how.

Andrea said...

Great post! Thank you!!


Denise Miller Holmes said...

Good stuff Kathy.

Kathy Kovach... said...

Jill, all I can say is you're a blessing to me. xxoo

Chris, Andrea, and Denise, Love you guys, too. Thanks for the encouragement.

Need More Words said...

This is something I need to work on in my NaNo Novel. I need to decide which minor characters I want the readers to be asking for more of.

Paula said...

Great post. I love how you make those minor characters come to life.

Kimberley Woodhouse said...

Great post, Kathy - wish we had more time to hang out so your wisdom could just ooze out onto me :)

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