Sekrit Author Knowledge – Minor Characters

Not really secret, given he posted it on Facebook… but on the other hand, Facebook is the prime example of unsearchable kludgely software that is designed to stimulate outrage and make it impossible to easily find or carry on a normal conversation.

So, cheerfully saved here, in order to find it later!

Larry Correia
January 23, 2018
I’m editing House of Assassins now, and I got to thinking about a trick I do. Maybe this will help aspiring writers.

One thing I get complimented on is that most of my secondary and even tertiary characters feel fleshed out. In actuality that’s not true, because Guard #3, I didn’t pay any more attention to him than necessary. But if you add a little extra focus to even a few of these type characters, it will create a feeling of depth.

So tonight I come across a minor character who needs to come into a scene, basically do one thing, and then die. This character needs to be here. But as I wrote that scene, I went to the To Do List at the end of the book (that’s literally what it is titled so I can find it fast with a ctrl F) and made a note about that guy.

So while editing, I looked at that minor character who needed to do something important, and then I asked myself where I could maybe have him show up earlier to get a bit more depth.

At the same time on the To Do List, I had a note about fleshing out another secondary character by telling something about his family.

Boom. Connection made. Problem solved. So minor character gets attached to this other character.

So then I go through the book looking for scenes with this second character, and what is the story between these two. I made a few tweaks, added a bit of a complication, and all of a sudden there is this really tragic story of betrayal and sacrifice involving a secondary and tertiary character.

And by adding like 500 words, spread across four scenes, there is now this really interesting story about these two guys.

If you pay attention there are often a bunch of opportunities like this while you edit.


  1. And then there’s David Weber, who gives us backstory on secondary and tertiary characters . . . and you know they’re going to die in the last third or so of the book. πŸ˜›

    1. Chuckle Chuckle

      When Eric Flint was invited to play in the Honorverse, he gripped about the problem of finding a Weber secondary and tertiary character who hadn’t been killed off. πŸ˜‰

    2. I need to kill off some of mine. πŸ˜› Sure, this is a big, sprawling epic mess, but the amount of characters who come up with their own sub-stories (I’m a total pantser) is getting ridiculous. I suppose some will die eventually; this is a world of swords, battles, nasty dungeons and dangerous magic, after all.

      On the other hand, it’s a lot of fun to write, and since I don’t plant to make a living off my writing, I can enjoy the freedom to break most of those rules – which are more like guidelines anyway. πŸ˜‰

    3. Oddly enough, that willingness to kill off characters is one of the things I like about Weber. While he doesn’t go into gratuitous wholesale slaughter like GRRM in GoT, he does have people in war actually losing battles and dying, sometimes from bad luck, sometimes from stupidity. But the bad luck ones almost always go down fighting to their last breath, while the stupid usually turn out either craven, or find a backbone just before being vaporized by a graser.

      I really did want to see a character cobble together a reentry vehicle out of the debris on the way down after Mesa destroyed Manticore’s space infrastructure though. Yeah, shades of Gravity, and a million to one chance to do it; but they had enough people up there that it was marginally possible.

  2. I find that you can assign secondary characters traits to keep them lively. One thing that I’ve heard of, and used, is go through the Olympians so one is more like Ares (bad temper) and another like Hermes (mischievous) and a third like Hestia (home-body).

    Beware, however, because lively characters sometimes come to life.

      1. I killed off a character because I thought he was growing too important.

        And he meekly died but then he hung around — not as a ghost — as a memory to the main character.

  3. Tom Clancy did that well in his novels – few characters just anonymously died. First, we were introduced to them, given a reason to care whether they lived or died.

    Then, POW! When the bullet or bomb hit (after a little teasing would-they-escape-or-not prologue), they were toast.

    And, it was no longer just a body count. We were pissed about that death – and all the others.

    Don’t just kill them. Lead up to it. Show them being targeted. Maybe getting away for a short time.

    Then, POW!

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