Sekrit Author Knowledge – Minor Characters

I’m about to break and enter into a research lab in order to recover some alien technology… Note, NSA dude, I’m talking about the Work In Progress here, not real life. Anyway, this can either be done via doorkicking, or it can be done via shenanigans. I could go either way, but shenanigans is appealing. However, in order to make hijinks plausible, I need a character that know the lay of the land…

It’s way too late in the story and hundreds of miles away from friendly territory, so introducing a new character is right out. But developing a more minor one? Ah, this is entirely possible. In fact. I have two alternative for the job, based on jokes and comments they’ve made earlier. This would just turn those one-liners into foreshadowing. Which… actually makes a lot of sense, and it’s why I accuse my back-brain of being smarter than my conscious brain is, because the opportunities were built in.

All have to do is 1.) use them, and 2.) make sure I go back and flesh that out just enough that readers who were skimming still feel like this didn’t come out of nowhere.

Think of it as the Larry Correia school of minor character moments:

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.

11 thoughts on “Sekrit Author Knowledge – Minor Characters

  1. This is only tangentially related to your post, but I would like to point out that with any lab facility there are going to be dozens, maybe hundreds, of people who worked on building it. There are so many different construction trades required–plumbers, electricians, carpenters, concrete workers, tile layers, and so on. And I’ve never seen an author do more than handwave away this issue.

    I’ve always wanted to see a story in which the heroes need to break into a top secret facility and so they ask around and find a bunch of local workers who did jobs there and quiz them on how the place is laid out.

    “Oh, yeah, I remember that job. I pulled wire for all those security cameras, and my cousin Phil roughed out the sinks in labs…”

    1. “Oh, you got stuck with that contract? You poor sucker. It was the worst plumbing job we had to take on. Yeah, they wanted this grey-water holding tank, then to surge out the waste and purge the pipes. I know – crazy as all get-out. And they wanted it cheap, fast, and well done. Yeah. YOU know how that went. Paid us only after the boss threatened to sue. Good luck finding just one leak there.

      “Where? Oh, that’s the other great thing. The main drain connects in the wrong place. Someday, the city [county]’s going to find out and the fines will be impressive.” Jack the Plumber to Sneaky Pete, at Ye Local Blue-Collar Bar.

      1. After we submitted the DD250 the DOD claims they’ve never heard of the place! “There’s no biological containment facility in Gringo Gulch, NM,” they say. And I’m like, “Oh, yeah? So where did this 2400 yards of cat6 go, huh?”

          1. “Ya’ll here for the government lab? Yeah, take state highway MM ’bout six miles out of town and you’ll see the turnoff–it’s the only gravel road out that way wide enough for a tractor trailer. I guess they got a hundred or so guys working there, so they get food delivered a couple of times a week. Just follow the fence until you see the solar panels and turn there.”

        1. Timothy Zahn came really close to this scenario in a book called _Blackcollar_. The invading aliens make the conquered people build them a wall, and the conquered people arrange for a certain part of the wall to be useless at a later date. Then they break in to the compound and do stuff…

    2. It’d be interesting to see how people did this in real life, e.g. when the Israelis raided Entebbe airport, they built a model of it first, but I can’t remember where they got their info.

      1. Fiction of course, but in one of Eric Flint & David Weber’s Crown of Slaves stories, the Good Guys talked with the original builders of the place that the Good Guys needed to raid.

        IE The original builder knew about the “hidden chambers” where the Bad Guys were hiding. She also gave the Good Guys info about “wouldn’t work” and info about “Now that would work”. 😉

      2. I know some guys who do force protection training on our side who will play “bad guy” and use video games, tourist videos, that kind of stuff as their information.

        (Note: this is literally for training, not secret at all, and OUR guys are all hardened against it.)

        I only found out about this because the video game used a blueprint for its accuracy, and the blueprint didn’t match the actual ship, and after the practice was over the guys were talking about how they weren’t sure if it was going to ruin their “attack” or not.

  2. I tend to have more trouble with bit characters who announce I Am Not Going Away!

    Mind you, I can kill them and they might not complain or even become ghosts, but that doesn’t mean they are Going Away. No, they live in memory.

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