Writer's Toolbox: Minor Characters, Part 6 (First Draft)

I really should have parceled these out, one a week. Unfortunately, when I do that kind of thing, I start revising too much, or I forget to finish the damned thing.

Last one :)

What's the difference between major and minor characters?

Not a whole lot.
  • The main character contains the story conflict; the major characters contain a good bit of it, too. Minor characters don't; they trigger the conflict in others.
  • Major characters have more room to breathe and develop--they don't have to go from A directly to B; they can go from A to drunk to Timbucktoo to B (kicking and screaming). Minor characters have simple internal conflicts, if any.
  • Minor characters might make choices; major characters (as a part of the story conflict) must make choices.
  • Minor characters can make one mistake (think horror movie); major characters can (and should) make lots.
I know the rule of any good essay is never to introduce new material at the end, but I'm going to do it anyway: part of what separates good fiction from great fiction--in my opinion, the essential part--is an acknowledgment of the complexity of the human condition. Shakespeare didn't just write pretty; he bowed down before the understanding that it's hard to be truly human, heartbreakingly, gutbustingly hard.

Shakespeare never could have conveyed that without his minor characters (Falstaff, anyone? The gravedigger in Hamlet? The acting troupe in Midsummers?).

Can you?