Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Ask O: Minor Characters--How Do I Make Them Interesting?

Happy Wednesday, my writing friends!

Have you ever met a quirky character--not in a book, but in real life? I can think of many such occasions.

Years ago my husband and I rented a video (remember those?) from a Blockbuster. The clerk's bushy head of brown hair was complemented by an all-black, goth outfit. When we approached, he said: "Greetings," in a dark, sober voice. "And salutations," I responded.

Recently the kids and I were ordering at a Taco Bell. The guys' eyes never once looked at me, and his body barely moved. It was like talking to a zombie.

When I was a courtesy clerk at Safeway, this sweet old European woman had a hard time finding her car, so she'd holler for her dog, "Susie! Susie!" Then she'd tell me do it. We'd both call out, "Susie! Susie!" until we could hear the little poodle barking in the back of her car.

I have so many more examples I could go on and on!

These are the kind of minor characters I love. The world is rich with them. A day rarely passes that at least one quirky person or just an odd behavior crosses my path (sometimes it's my own family...or myself.) I simply cherish these moments! Not because I'm making fun, but because I delight in the diversity of people God has made. We're all so different and our peculiarity makes us real and wonderful.

Also, it's kind of amazing that a holy God would love our silly world enough to send His Son.

So, why not sprinkle (not overload) my story world with odd, eccentric, idiosyncratic folks? In Love Finds You in Lonesome Prairie, Montana, you'll meet Horace, the gold miner who's hungry for the love of a real purdy woman. In Victory Heights, the newspaper boss man switches up his sentences so they make no sense. The teenaged boy in Glacier Bay enjoys creating crazy contraptions he thinks are helping (not so much). It's super fun!

I tried not to let these colorful fellows overwhelm the story. I sprinkle them here and there with just a few scenes. They are minor characters, after all.

I also make sure they're not too cartoonish. I think of the real-life characters I know and model my minors after them, even toning down at times. (Sometimes reality is too crazy for fiction!)

My goal is to reflect the quirky diversity I see around me--which I happen to greatly enjoy.

What eccentric characters have you met lately--in a story (yours or others') or in real life? How do they inspire your writing?

God bless and happy writing!



  1. Love your descriptions! Jack Bickham said that the most successful characters were exaggerations of real life, but it seems like some real people live an exaggerated life, don't they?

    We have a local guy who walks everywhere wearing camo, waving a sprig of cedar at everyone. I don't know his name, but I call him, "Many Pierced One" for obvious reasons. I think he could be called a character.

    1. Love it, Angie! My kids and I were remembering a lady we used to know. When I had my first baby, he was quite adorable (if I do say so myself!). When she saw him, she looked over my husband and I and said, "How did YOU guys get such a cute baby?" Ha ha! Cracks me up.


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