(Or something? Yeah, I screwed that title up.)
Not every character in a story is going to have a starring role. One aspect of writing that's frequently on my mind is how to flesh out the minor characters and bring them to life, ranging from the secondary characters who tag along with the main group for a lot of the action to the people who just pop up for a scene or two. The latter is where I really make myself crazy: Is this person really crucial to the story? Are they significant enough to be named? How do I give them dimension so they're just not a cardboard cut-out?
I second guess myself all the time when it comes to this. (Okay, maybe not as much as I used to, but still.) Hell, Geneva's father in the Skies series doesn't even have a name, and I don't think he's actually spoken a line despite being mentioned a fair number of times. While the main plot and its characters are at the top of my list of priorities, I still want to fill out my fictional worlds with "real" people, but I don't want to dwell on unnecessary details.
What got me thinking about this is a chapter in The Fall of the Midnight Scorpions* I finished up the other night. In this chapter, Ro meets a woman named Lesley. Lesley only appears in this one scene. If I counted up the number of words she speaks, I'm not sure I'd break into double digits. However, without giving away too many plot points, she is important to the story.
You can tell a lot about Lesley just in the handful of pages she appears in. For one thing, it is obvious from the get-go that she and Ro are not, nor will ever be friends. A protagonist's strong opinion on a character goes a long way in shaping the reader's perception. Now, since I'm biased towards my beloved heroine, within a few short paragraphs I already dislike Lesley, even though she didn't really do anything to warrant such feelings. (And I CREATED her. How unfair is that?) If it were a real-life situation, I'd probably side with her point of view, to tell you the truth. As the deliciously awkward scene rolls on, dislike morphs into sympathy, pity, and envy at various points. So in the space of what's probably less than 2000 words, poor Lesley is evoking all sorts of conflict in me-the-reader, and she's never even going to be mentioned by name again!
I'm sorry, Lesley. I wish good things for you since the little snippet we got probably isn't the most fair and accurate representation. At least it's implied you survive until the end of the book and live somewhat happily ever after?
(*HaHA! I remembered to use the working title instead of just calling it the Disintegration sequel!)