Posted by: nancycurteman | October 4, 2012

How to Write Real Minor Characters Not Just Mannequins

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Minor characters, sometimes called walk-ons or extras, are often considered the setting. They make up part of the world in which main characters live but they are not important to the story. This is especially true in the case of faceless individuals in crowd scenes, battle scenes, audiences and other large groups. Usually an author simply mentions their presence and not much more.

However, there are many other kinds of minor characters that may merit a bit more attention from authors—taxi drivers, waitresses, bartenders, sales clerks, checkers, concierges—the list is endless. An author must decide how to write these minor characters in a way that makes them real without making them important. Minor characters should make a momentary impression when they come on the scene. They should get no more than a sentence or two of introduction, but those sentences must make the reader see them as real people. This takes a bit of planning.

While not brought alive to the same extent as main and secondary characters, they should never be mere mannequins. Give them some unique attribute that differentiates them from a light pole.

Here are some strategies for creating real people who will not upstage your primary characters. Give them

• Physical characteristics
The cabbies mustache reminded her of Charlie Chaplin.
The waitress’s brassy red hair made her look like a Raggedy Ann doll.

• Demeanor/behavior
His icy blue eyes reflected his merciless treatment of the children.
The fry cook kept coughing while flipping pancakes.

• Role in life
The shy little girl tagged behind the more gregarious students.
The boisterous personality of the politician suited him to his chosen profession.

• Illness or disability
His stutter worsened with increased anxiety.
She wondered how the blind newsstand guy managed to keep track of sales.

• Unusual attire
He kept grabbing his sagging pants to keep them from sliding to his knees.
Where would a waitress get the money for that 4 carat ring sparkling on her finger?

• Eccentric or obsessive
The hotel guest wiped the doorknob with a tissue before touching it.
Mary’s collection of shrunken heads frightened me.

• Unusual job or profession
She had never seen a milker of venomous snakes before.
Artificial flavor taster seemed like an interesting job.

Minor characters must remain minor. Write them with short succinct descriptions or actions then make them disappear.

More Tips:

Developing Characters is No Mystery

How to Create Sympathetic Mystery Novel Characters

How to Create Minor Characters in Your Mystery Novel


  1. Excellent!


  2. Superb examples, NC.


  3. Thanks Nancy.


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