The Secret Lives of Best Friends and Other Minor Characters

Writer’s Digest has a great post up about strengthening your minor characters–what are their motivations? What traits can you round out?

This got me thinking about the best friend characters in YA. They pop up in lots of novels, especially contemporary YA, and sometimes I feel the best friend characters are a little lacking. They can feel like they only exist to be the main character’s best friend–pushing them into conversations with the romantic lead, fuming at appropriate times, or acting like a lovable oddball. All of that is fine, but it’s good to remember that these characters should also be complete people. In real life, your best friends aren’t just your cheering section–they go home and talk to their pets and take salsa lessons.

When I feel like my minor characters aren’t full people, thinking about big things like motivation and character traits can be hard. But it’s not as hard to imagine those little, normal life things. What does minor character X do when she’s at home on a Saturday morning? What’s minor character Y’s after-school activity? Where does minor character Z’s family go on vacation? These might not be huge, defining qualities, but it helps you start imagining a life for your character outside of your protagonist’s journey.

How do you flesh out your minor characters?

6 thoughts on “The Secret Lives of Best Friends and Other Minor Characters

  1. Vickie Lester says:

    Hi Annie, I have to admit the last YA novel I read was THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak — what was interesting was it didn’t read like there were any minor characters… Fox owns the rights and is going to start casting in the fall 😉

  2. shadowoperator says:

    I find it’s easier to flesh out minor characters if I act like I’m an actor playing a bit part in a play. Every actor, no matter how minor a part they play, has to write an autobiography (at least in their heads) and a sort of list of motivations for why the character does what he or she does. This extra material may never see the light of day in the stage show, play, or movie, but it’s the material the actor, if he or she is any good, keeps in mind to play the character with as it’s actually written by the author. If you do this as an author for your minor characters, you can later decide what parts to keep as a part of your novel or short story, and what parts aren’t necessary. How does that sound?

  3. L. Palmer says:

    As a writer, I’ve found that minor characters become more interesting than the main character, which is a problem I’m working on. With a minor character, there is actually more flexibility because they aren’t driving the story. When I figured that out, I realized I needed add that flexibility to writing my main character.

  4. gwynnem says:

    For minor characters, I tend to include some kind of unique/defining characteristic that is either of them (physical feature) or that interests or preoccupies them. Then I let the magic of characters interacting do the rest.

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