Minor Characters

Recently, in the circles that I’m in, more and more people are asking what to do about minor characters. They want to flush them out, give them their own backstory, their own story, understand their background, and everything that makes them tick, but should they do that? How much attention should we give our minor characters? To address this, let’s look at real life.

There are people you encounter every day that you know nothing about. You go to the gas station, fuel up, go inside to get a snack, and the only words exchanged between you and the cashier are:

“Hello, how are you today?”

“I’m great, thanks.”

“Your total will be $5.98.” A pause as the cashier accepts the cash from you, and then she smiles at you and hands you your purchased item. “Thank you, and have a great day.”

“Thanks. You too.” And you leave.

Now, you know nothing about that girl. You don’t know how old she is, if she’s in high school or college, if she’s married or single or has any kids. You don’t know what her talents are, her skills are, or her dreams. You know absolutely nothing, but you’re okay with that. Why? Because you have someplace to be, and getting stuck in a conversation may distract you from what you have to do.

So having characters you know nothing about is fine in a story. Now, another instance of minor characters would be those people you run into on occasion. You’ve seen them enough times you might know their names and greet them. For instance, my mother and I used to go to the park and walk every morning, and at the same time there was this older couple also walking the trail. Their names were Vic and Sid. We knew nothing more of each other except for our names, and we’d greet each other warmly each time we saw one another:

“Hey! How are you? Been a while since we’ve seen you.”

“Yeah, been busy—family stuff, but it’s nice to be back.”

“It’s great to see you again.”

“You too.” And we’d just keep walking, minding our own business.

Another way we may encounter minor characters in real life may be those people we see on a regular basis and may or may not recall the person’s name, but we have a fair idea of what their personality is like and maybe even their dreams. However, they like to talk with you at the most inopportune times, and you never really want to get too drawn into a conversation. An example of this is a cashier at Wal-Mart who has checked out your items on a regular basis. You can’t recall her name, so you have to keep looking at her tag, which reads ‘Jenny’. She remembers you though even if she doesn’t recall your name. You’re the person who’s published a book. In her eyes, you’re famous, and she likes talking with you in a loud voice. She tries to be nonchalant about your accomplishments, and every time she sees you, she tells you about her plans of making a movie. You encourage her, but really, standing in line at the cashier in Wal-Mart is not the best place for this conversation since there are other people in line waiting for their items to be checked through. However, you never see her outside of Wal-Mart, and every time you talk with her, she keeps saying the same thing, and it’s like she never takes any steps toward fulfilling her dreams. You don’t really have time to invest in this person, but you try to be nice.

Now all these are minor characters you may meet in real life. In stories, your characters will encounter similar characters, and you don’t have to flush them out thoroughly. Giving them a personality is always good, and sometimes minor characters will surprise you by actually contributing majorly to the story in ways you never expected, and that’s all right.

The main thing to keep in mind is, “Is this minor character important to the story? Does this character contribute to the story? Do they contribute in a small way or in a big way?” If it’s a small way, you don’t have to develop them too much. Yes, you as the author might know their entire life story and all their hopes and dreams, but that might not be important to the story you’re writing. It’d be very confusing if you have a story about someone who’s on the run from the law, and he checks into this motel where there’s this guy behind the counter who’s dream is to become a cowboy, and suddenly the story shifts to trying to let him accomplish his dream. Sure, there are ways of making the work, but what about the guy who’s on the run?

You’re not obligated it give every character major screen time. In someone else’s life, you are a minor character, someone who they merely passed by on the sidewalk. Yes, you have a lot of depth, huge dreams, and your own bag of troubles, but to that individual whose life you don’t impact, you’re just another face, and that’s okay.

So, when you’re writing a story, if you don’t know how much you should develop a minor character, look at the story, ask how important the character is to the story and how much they contribute to it. Go ahead and give them some personality or quirk to make them memorable to the reader, but then move on. You could have a memorable minor character, and this could be someone that you decide to come back to later and write his own story, but for the time being, don’t overwhelm your book with too many characters.

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Dealing with Procrastination

“How do you deal with procrastination?” I’ve been asked, and I ask them, “Well, what’s your reason for procrastinating?”  Usually I don’t get much of a response except for an indecisive, uncertain answer such as a shrug of the shoulder and, “I don’t know.” In order to tackle procrastination, you must first determine why you do it. It is a means to pass time, but pass time from what? For us writers, usually we’re procrastinating from working on our stories in one way or another. What are some ways and reasons we procrastinate? Here’s a list:

  • Distracted
  • Bored
  • Really just don’t want to do what you have to do
  • Not even sure what you’re supposed to do
  • Don’t know how to do what you’re supposed to do
  • Tired or beyond exhausted
  • Not feeling well
  • Can’t get your thoughts organized
  • Totally unmotivated to do anything
  • Lacking direction
  • Keep getting interrupted
  • Stressed out
  • Health issues
  • Reluctant to write
  • Lacking confidence in your abilities
  • Lack of time
  • Family/friend drama
  • Life issues
  • Have other things you’d rather do

And the list can go on. Now, there is no magic formula how to not procrastinate. Everyone is different, and there is different ways to combat this. Some people are more self-motivated while other people really struggle to get much done. You need to determine what kind of person you are and what your unique struggles are. If you realize you lack self-motivation but really want to change that, you need to start setting realistic goals for yourself. Let’s say you struggle with writing anything in your story, but you want to get better at that. Start by telling yourself to write at least 250-500 words a day. You have no excuses. You can do it. You simply need to make the time to do that. You can ask a friend to hold you accountable, but you don’t want to rely on that individual. You must become independent and self-driven.

As you do this, you will find that this new drive doesn’t only affect how you write, but it also touches upon the rest of your life and how you conduct yourself. You see, it takes time to get something time. If you can measure how much time each project takes, you can manage it accordingly. People have lost the sense of being accountable for how they spend their time. If you’re trying to become more self-motivated, start observing how you spend your time. One way to do this is to take a calendar at the end of the day and write the major things you accomplished during that day or what major things happened to you during that day. Having a blank day makes you feel like you totally wasted all that time, which cannot be redeemed.

Always try to have a short To-Do list every day of things that are within your ability to accomplish. It doesn’t have to be a long list but rather realistic. For instance, today I only have a few things on my list to do. It looks like this:

  1. Write new blog posts
  2. Proof/edit 15 chapters
  3. Post author interview
  4. Go to gym and swim

Of course that’s not including the everyday chores I have to do. These are things totally within the realm of possibility. Yes, the proofing and editing of fifteen chapters can be daunting, and I’m really not looking forward to that, but I did the math. If I do 15 chapters a day, I will have completed the book by Saturday. Once it’s completed, I can send it on to my proofreader and to my editor, and they can begin the process of proofing and editing it themselves. The sooner they get it, the sooner they’ll get it back to me, and the sooner I can publish it. That is the only thing pushing me. I’ve already completed #3 on that list, and I’m currently working on #1. Around 3PM today, I’ll be able to hit the gym. And that is how I’m able to accomplish things on my To-Do list. I don’t list every little thing I need to do (like cooking dinner or cleaning out the cat litter box or feeding the dog), but I list the things that I’d like to accomplish during the day.

So, as you contemplate procrastination, reflect on your life, your motives, and what motivates you. I can’t give you a checklist that will make you more productive. I can’t change who you are—only you can do that, but you can only do that once you realize who you really are, and that takes some self-reflection and being honest with yourself.