Posted by: nancycurteman | August 9, 2010

How to Create Minor Characters in Your Mystery Novel

 

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Minor characters are as important in a mystery novel as the main characters. Their role, though different from that of the protagonist and antagonist, is critical to the development and resolution of the mystery.

Minor characters are useful for providing brief back story, hidden clues, and insight into the personality, motivation and goals of the main character. The mystery author should take care to make these characters unique and interesting. Here are some ways to bring minor characters to life.

The Observer/Reporter. Make the minor character the one who knows everything about everyone in town: the waitress in a small town restaurant who talks to everyone, the bartender in a bar popular with other characters in the story, a gossip columnist.

• Problems. Heap problems on minor characters, the kind that impact the protagonist. Make him the alcoholic brother who always needs bailing out; the inquisitive teenage kid who’s always sticking his nose into criminal investigations; the trusting twenty something ingénue who keeps getting herself into dangerous situations.

The Nagger. The mother who wants the protagonist to get married and keeps introducing inappropriate marriage candidates; the boss who keeps pressuring the protagonist to get the case solved.

• Make the character Unique. Give h/er physical, emotional, mental or personality problems: bound to a wheelchair, has a speech defect, afraid of the dark, obsessive/compulsive disorder.

Unusual job, hobby or interests. Skyscraper window washer, snake venom milker, collects live spiders, reads the obituaries and attends lots of funerals.

The author’s goal is to make the minor characters interesting while using them to propel the story toward its final climax.

More writing tips:

Developing Characters is No Mystery

How to Create Sympathetic Mystery Novel Characters

The Romantic Heroine in a Mystery Novel

How to Write Character Arc in a Mystery Novel


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Responses

  1. Some good ideas here. I ike the way you group things together. Your next e-book. Tips for Novelitst….

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  3. I think Carolyn is on to something, Nancy. I hope you’re thinking of a collection of these pieces.

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  4. Thank you for the suggestions for creating useful minor characters. This make sense. The novel I have written has ten characters that carry significant weight. Two of them are of necessity introduced in the last few chapters, but are major nonetheless and must be real and unique. The entire novel transpires over a three-day period in the lives of the characters. By the end of the story the reader knows them all, their strengths and weaknesses. Maybe I just don’t know the difference between a main character and a protagonist and a minor character. Anyway, it works. I will learn more as I go along. I want to start my next novel as soon as I have a clue what might be the story. Ha! Thanks for all your help!

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  5. Last mystery I read, by Janet Evanovich included many of these secondary characters:

    The Nagger ~ Stephanie Plum’s mother
    Unique ~ Stephanie’s grandmother
    Unusual Job ~ whore turned to filing clerk

    Great advice. Thanks!

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  6. This is great! I’d read about a Snake Venom Milker anytime!

    Gretchen

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  7. […] How to Create Minor Characters in Your Mystery Novel […]

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  16. Thank you for sharing this information. I am thinking of my MS and its minor characters. There are not many, but there are a few officers that appear briefly but carry the story along. I will look at them specifically after reading your post today.

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    • Carol, Minor characters are pretty important in terms of providing a feeling tone to a novel, even when they appear briefly. One sentence that describes them mentally, emotionally, physically or in terms of a habit can make a big difference.

      Like

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