Making Minor Characters Sing

This week we're talking about some of our favorite moments of the Storymasters conference in Houston, TX.  I have to say that my favorite day was the second day, when we were treated to eight hours of James Scott Bell, author of Plot &Structure.  I read Plot & Structure when I first started my writing journey, but plot is something I struggle with, and so I come back to this book often.   James, or "Jim" as the other presenters referred to him, was not only brilliant, but also funny and engaging.

While at the conference, I picked up a copy of Revision and Self-Editing, a book that Bell wrote to help transform a crappy first draft into a great work of fiction. It's a great book, with lots of tips for transforming scenes and livening up characters to make them jump off the page.

 Bell encouraged us to think big, to create unique plots and larger than life characters that would draw a reader in. One thing that stuck with me was his take on minor characters.  According to Bell, every minor character should fall into one of two camps.  They are either allies or irritants to you main character.  Every minor character, even the perfunctory characters that are there to move the story along, the bartender, the cab driver or the grocery store clerk, should help or hinder your character along the way to solving the story's problems.  Thinking of even the most minor characters in this way helps you to keep focused on the primary plot objectives and also opens up a world of possibilities in terms of comedy, conflict and tension.

Bell suggested taking all the characters in your books and putting them in two lists.  Those who are there to help your main character accomplish her goals, and those who oppose her.  By understanding the relationship between the minor characters and the main goals of the protagonist, your scenes will start to write themselves thanks to the conflicts and relationships that naturally arise, while keeping the story on track and the plot trajectory moving forward.

What a simple concept.  Look at every character in your novel, and let the main character ask them- are you with me or against me?  The answer may surprise you.  And open up a world of possibilities to make even the most perfunctory scene or character sparkle.



I like this. Very simple and interesting to keep in mind. Thanks!

Talia, nice post, and thanks for the kind word. It really does make a difference in the story to do this, enhancing the reader's experience sort of "under the radar." Like that little character in that scene from Moonstruck. We barely notice, yet how much better was the scene because of her little "bits"?

Thanks again.

A Story Master! A Story Master! Thanks for coming by the blog, and for all the great wisdom on craft!

Thank you James for stopping by the blog! It was truly a pleasure to learn from you. Everything I write owes something to you and your books. It was really illuminating to see these points in action through film clips. I keep thinking about the hotel clerk in those scenes from the graduate, and how what could have been a mundane scene was elevated with conflict and tension.

Completely riveted by this week's posts. Thanks so much for all the information--and it's only Wednesday!

We have a celebrity sighting above!

I'm off to make my character list now.

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