We’ve discussed our antagonist and our protagonist the last few weeks. How about other characters? These could range from our protagonist’s fiancée to the guy who handed the antagonist a latte at Starbucks. What care do we need to take with these.
First question we need to determine about any individual is his or her importance to the story. Is this just an incidental character who make one or two cameo appearances to drive a bus or prepare a hot dog at an outdoor stand (mmmm—a hot dog sounds good right now), or does this person appear throughout a substantial portion of the book?
The incidental character doesn’t need to be named. In fact, we can do our readers a great service by not naming these people.
Have you ever attended a friend’s family reunion. Or maybe met the extended family of your significant other for the first time?
Remember how you felt meeting all those people? OMG, I’ll never remember all these names. What if I call Aunt Sue Aunt Jenny by mistake? Or Cousin Joe Cousin Sam? I’m sure I’m not the only person who’s ever been in that position. I could remember Mom and Dad and brother and sister if they’d limit it to them, but all these others? How will I ever remember who’s who?
This is what we do to our readers when we throw too many names at them. There are a certain number of characters important enough to require the reader to remember them, but let’s try to have a little pity.
Okay, David, who is important enough to be named? We’ve already named an antag and a protag. Who else?
Generally, the antag needs some help causing turmoil for the protag. These helpers are called minions.
They may be evil people hired by the antag, or they may just happen to have agendas that run at cross purposes to the protag’s agenda. We could come up with some stories where the antag is the sole disturbing element, but in general there will be one or more minions.
The protag will usually need a mentor. Remember, we discussed earlier that the protag must start out inferior to the antag. He grows throughout the story as he meets one conflict after another until he is finally able to defeat the antag.
If he’s going to grow, he probably needs someone on his side to help him grow and to direct him along his path. Again, this is not an absolute in all stories, but it’s a normal necessity.
This mentor need not sit the protag down and lecture him like a professor with a student, although that could happen. He may just be someone our protag observes and learns from. In either case, he helps our hero to grow into his role.
The protag may or may not also have a love interest. If so, this would be a pretty major character.
The love interest may be at our hero’s side throughout the story, or he or she may be visiting an aunt in Gotebo, Oklahoma, and never actually appear except in the protag’s thoughts. In either case, this love interest will be important to our story.
Our protag may also have one or more allies. These are generally good friends, but they could also just be people whose goals more or less line up with our hero’s goals.
Each of these characters would naturally be named in our story. They’re too important and appear too often to keep saying “The man with the funny glasses . . .” or “The woman with the whiskey baritone voice . . .” We need to call them by name.
But we need to do more than assign names. We mentioned earlier visiting someone else’s family reunion and trying to remember names. Wouldn’t it be easier if we knew ahead of time Uncle John was the one who always had a mug of coffee in his hand and Cousin Fred was the one who never lit his ever-present cigar?
If a character is important enough to be named, we need to do a profile on him or her like we did on the antagonist and the protagonist. Depending on how important—and how frequently present—these characters are, we may or may not go into quite as much detail as for the two main ones, but we still have to give them identifiable traits and personalities. Our readers can remember who’s who much better if they can identify them as individuals.
Next, we’ll get into a discussion of our main narrative plot points. See ya’ then.
Ø What experiences have you had with being overwhelmed by meeting a bunch of new people all at once and being expected to remember all their names?
Ø Forget the reader for a moment—how does it help you as the author to have a written profile?
If you liked this, please comment and repost link on FB or Twitter.