What Are Minor Characters? [A Guide to Better Storytelling]

minor characters

Quick Answer: What are minor characters?

The role of a minor character in a story is to help with:

  • Developing the character arcs and personalities of the main characters of the story.
  • Moving along the plot of the story through action, exposition, or backstory.
  • Making the story’s world more interesting and rich.
  • Please note that minor characters are very different from supporting characters!

Are you a creative writer who is not sure about the role of minor characters in your stories?

It can be difficult to know how in-depth you should go when writing your main character and the secondary and tertiary characters that surround them in your story!

Here’s the truth: in fiction writing, minor characters are super important if you want to write a great story. Minor characters bring authenticity, complexity, and sometimes even comic relief to the world you’re creating.

In this guide, we’ll examine a minor character’s specific job in a story, how these characters differ from main and secondary characters, and their important contributions to your story or screenplay. Let’s get into it!

Definition of a Minor Character

group of minor characters

In a story, not every character can be a star! Minor characters, also called tertiary characters, are still very important to an overall story arc.

They share important details through action or dialogue, move the story forward, inspire or affect the main characters and secondary characters alike, and help create the story’s world.

Minor vs Supporting Characters

The difference between minor and supporting characters is important for authors and storytellers to understand.

Supporting characters, also called secondary characters, are more involved in the story. They have their own storylines and story arcs. They often play important roles such as:

  • The main character’s sidekick or best friend.

  • The romantic interest.

  • The main character’s enemy (AKA the story’s ‘antagonist’).

  • The mentor to the main character.

In contrast, minor characters, or tertiary characters, play smaller, more limited roles. They may only appear briefly in a few scenes, but they still contribute to the story in a meaningful way.

In other words, like the name suggests, a minor character appears in a minor role (while a supporting character typically appears in a major role). But it doesn’t mean that a minor character can’t make a significant impact on the main character or the story.

While they don’t typically have a character arc of their own, they can affect the character development of the main character and the supporting characters.

Types of Minor Characters

There are several kinds of minor characters in stories, and each has a unique role. Let’s take a look at the most common ones.

  • Background characters help to set the scene and mood of the story, but they usually don’t change the plot or the main characters. In the movie Titanic, the passengers seen on the decks and in the halls of the ship are background characters. They don’t have direct roles in the plot – but they do help to create a sense of the ship’s grandeur and the era’s social dynamics.

  • Bit-part players are slightly more involved than background characters. They are not key to the storyline, but they assist in moving the plot forward. In The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, the character of Cinna, Katniss’ stylist, is a bit-part player. He doesn’t drive the main plot, but his influence on Katniss’s appearance and the way he cares for her add depth to the story.

  • Proper minor characters, on the other hand, are involved in one or two scenes and directly affect the plot or the main characters. In The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, Mr. Tumnus, the faun, is a proper minor character. He appears in only a few scenes but has a significant impact on the plot by befriending Lucy and helping her understand the world of Narnia. His actions set the stage for all the events that follow.

The Importance of Minor Characters

busy street scene

Minor characters can actually play an important role in stories! They bring different viewpoints to the story and help us see more sides of the main characters. The main roles of a minor character is to:

  • Add Realism: Minor characters make the story world feel more real. For example, in Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling, the shopkeepers that Harry talks with in Diagon Alley help to show typical life in the wizarding world.

  • Support the Plot: They help move the story along. Sometimes, they bring important news to the main characters, or they cause problems for them. For example, in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Gollum is a minor character who leads Frodo and Sam to Mordor and is central to the destruction of the One Ring.

  • Assist in Character Development for the Main Characters: They help to show different sides of the main characters. How the main characters interact with them tells us more about their personality. For example, in To Kill a Mockingbird, Boo Radley helps develop Scout’s character. Her perception of him evolves from fear to understanding, which showcases her growth and maturity throughout the story.

  • Create Depth: Minor characters add layers to the story. Their own small stories make the main story richer. In The Great Gatsby, characters like Jordan Baker and Myrtle Wilson are there to provide a bigger picture of the novel’s societal context and themes.

  • Set the Mood: They help create the story’s atmosphere. Their actions and words can make a scene feel happy, sad, scary, or exciting. In The Shawshank Redemption, Brooks, the elderly librarian, sets a mood of despair and hopelessness in the prison. He describes his fear of the outside world, which highlights the emotional impact of long-term incarceration.

  • Provide Variety: They bring different voices and experiences. This makes the story more interesting. In Game of Thrones, characters from different regions of Westeros and beyond, like the Martells of Dorne or the Free Folk of the North, help to show the range of cultures and traditions among the people of this fantasy world.

  • Show the World: They give us a peek into parts of the story world we wouldn’t see otherwise. They can show how the world affects the main characters in different ways. In Pride and Prejudice, characters like Mr. Collins and Lady Catherine de Bourgh show the audience the different aspects of the social hierarchy in Regency England. This helps readers understand the challenges faced by the main characters of the story.

Illustration of a character providing information to the protagonist

How to Write Minor Characters

Let’s look at how to write minor characters that will help move your story along!

Key Takeaways on How to Write Minor Characters

  • Give each one a distinct voice and feel, with their own ideas and viewpoints.
  • Make sure each minor one has a purpose in the story.
  • Make sure the character appears in a memorable way when we first meet them.
  • Try not to create over-detailed descriptions of these characters or use stereotypes when writing them.

1. Give Them Distinct Voices

A minor character’s voice makes them stand out.

This voice shows in their dialogue, how they act, and their view of the world. Aspects of a unique voice could include:

  • Their way of speaking: Maybe they use certain words or phrases, or they have a unique accent.

  • Their actions: How they move or react in different situations can say a lot about them.

  • Their opinions: What they think about what’s happening in the story can show their personality.

  • Their humor: If they tell lots of jokes or have a funny way of looking at things.

  • Their emotions: How they show their feelings, like always being calm or getting excited easily.

2. Give Them a Purpose

Every character in your narrative should fulfill a purpose. These are some common reasons to adding a minor character to your story:

  • Move the Plot Along: Some characters help to advance the story’s main events.

  • Develop Other Characters: Others contribute to the growth and development of main characters.

  • To Set the Mood: Certain characters are important for creating the right atmosphere or mood in a scene.

3. Introduce Them Well

How you first show a minor character can really make them stick in readers’ minds. Here are some ways to do that:

  • Dramatic Entrance: Have them come into the story in an exciting or big way.
    • Example: Have the character bursting into a quiet room, out of breath and excited. Or, have them riding in on a motorcycle, interrupting a calm scene with the roar of the engine.
  • Special Line of Dialogue: Make their first words stand out or be really catchy in some way.
    • Example: A character who starts by saying something mysterious like, “I’ve seen something today that no one else has seen,” or someone who confidently says, “There’s a storm coming, and I’m not just talking about the weather.”
  • Unique Trait: Show them with something that sets them apart right away.
    • Example: Picture a character who always wears a bright red hat, no matter the occasion, or someone who has a strikingly colorful tattoo.

4. Show Their Relationships

minor characters in a bar

How minor characters get along with others can make a story more interesting. Here’s how:

  • They Reveal Personalities: When minor characters interact with the main ones, we learn more about who they are. Their behavior and words can show us the true nature of the story’s heroes and villains.

  • Share Background Stories: These interactions can also give us hints about where the main characters come from or what they’ve been through. We get a peek into their past without them telling us directly.

  • Show Different Sides of Characters: By seeing how characters react to each other, we see various aspects of their personalities.

READ MORE: For inspiration when you’re writing a story villain, check out these lists of villain ideas, character backstory ideas and villain quirk ideas!

5. Don’t Give Too Many Details

While depth is generally good, too many details can distract from the major characters. The right balance is key: include enough important information to be interesting but not so much it takes over the story.

The focus should always be on moving the story forward.

6. Let Them Grow or Change

If they have multiple appearances, allowing minor characters to grow or change in some way makes them more dynamic. Even small changes can have a big impact on the story and other characters.

This growth makes them more like real people and relatable to readers.

7. Enhance The Atmosphere

Tertiary characters can affect the story’s mood by adding tension, humor, or fear. Use your characters’ language and actions to affect the mood of the story.

8. Unique Traits and Personalities

Each character in your story should be different from all the others. Unique traits make minor characters more memorable. This could be a funny habit, a different way of talking, or a special skill. Examples include:

  • Distinctive Appearance: A character who always wears a bright, oversized bowtie.

  • Unusual Hobby: A character who spends their free time building intricate toothpick models.

  • Characteristic Gesture: A character who always taps their nose when thinking deeply.

  • Signature Item: A character known for carrying an old, mysterious-looking key.

  • Specific Phrase: A character who ends every sentence with “You know what I mean?”

  • Odd Talent: A character who can recall and recite any date in history.

  • Memorable Laugh: A character with a laugh that sounds like a musical instrument.

  • Unique Fear: A character who is strangely afraid of mirrors.

  • Particular Food Preference: A character who only eats food that is yellow.

  • Trademark Style of Walking: A character known for their distinct, jaunty stride.

9. Consider Character Archetypes

archetypical characters

It’s always good practice to consider archetypes when you are writing your minor and side characters. Here are the main ones to think of as you write:

  • The Innocent: Think of the pure, optimistic friend who always sees the good in people. They bring lightness and hope to the story.

  • The Everyman: This archetype is your relatable, down-to-earth character, embodying the “average Joe” who stands for normalcy and belonging.

  • The Hero: Not just for main characters, a minor hero can be someone who bravely supports the protagonist or stands up for what’s right in smaller ways.

  • The Caregiver: Always there to help and protect, these nurturing characters add warmth and caring to a story.

  • The Explorer: With an insatiable desire for new experiences, the explorer can push your main characters into new adventures or discoveries.

  • The Rebel: By questioning everything and challenging norms, rebels can stir things up and create conflict in a story.

  • The Lover: Focused on romance, beauty, and relationships, lovers can add depth to side plots or motivate other characters through their passions.

  • The Creator: Creators bring new ideas and innovation to a story.

  • The Jester: Jesters can lighten the mood and bring laughter with their humor and wit.

  • The Sage: Sages provide guidance and advice to the main characters of the story.

  • The Magician: These transformative characters show how things can change in magical and unexpected ways.

  • The Ruler: These are the leaders or authority figures in your story. They add structure or present challenges to your protagonist’s world.

For more of my thoughts on how to write less common character archetypes, check out my articles on the friendly beast archetype and the monster archetype.

How to Manage Minor Characters

Keeping track of minor characters can be tough if you have quite a few in your story. When you have many characters, it’s easy to mix up who they are and what they do in the story!

So, let’s talk about how you keep all of your minor characters organized.

Keep Track of All of Your Characters

character list and notes

My best tip is to write down every character in a list or spreadsheet. Alternatively, you can use special creative writing software such as Scrivener or Sudowrite. Each of these programs has special ways to help you keep track of each major character, secondary character, and minor character. You can even try AI writing tools!

This can help you remember their roles, how they connect with other characters, and how they change in the story.

Combine and Streamline Roles

Another way to handle minor characters is to put similar ones together into one character. Instead of having many minor characters doing the same thing, have one character with a bigger part.

This makes your story clearer and more focused and helps each character stand out.

Don’t Overload the Story

It’s good to have different characters, but too many are confusing and can take attention away from the major characters.

The goal is to have just enough to make your story interesting but not so many that they make the story too busy. As I keep emphasizing, the main thing is to keep the story moving forward!

No Stereotypes and Tokenism

Be careful not to use stereotypes or tokenism in your stories.

As noted in this article, using stereotypes can make your characters feel fake and can upset readers, especially if rooted in offensive tropes. Tokenism, where you include a character just for the sake of diversity, can make that character seem like they don’t belong in the story.

To avoid these problems, research well and really understand your characters and your story world. Every character, even minor ones, should be written with thought and respect.

character archetypes

My Ending Thoughts

In the end, minor characters are actually very important in stories! They make the story world feel complete, help the plot move along, and support the main characters.

When we make them interesting minor characters by having their own voices and special traits and letting them change, they become characters readers remember. But we have to handle them carefully, not have too many, and avoid using stereotypes. Every character, even the small ones, can make a big difference in your story!

Want to know more about writing well-rounded characters? Check out my articles on how to write relatable characters and ways to make readers fall in love with your characters. Or, you can learn more about my 1:1 story coaching services here. I love helping new writers develop their story ideas into full novels and screenplays!

pin for article on minor characters

Q’s About Minor Characters

How do you identify a minor character?

You can tell a minor character because they’re not in the story for long. They show up for a bit, help add to the story’s mood, plot, or humor, and then they might not be seen much again.

What is a minor character usually classified as?

A minor character is often a static character. This means they support the major characters and help the story, but they don’t change much from the beginning to the end of the story.

What is the difference between a minor character and a supporting character?

Supporting characters play a bigger part in the story than minor characters. They often have their own stories and change over time. Minor characters have smaller roles, maybe showing up just a few times.

Similar Posts


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *