Major and Minor Characters Outline

Major and Minor Characters

  1. Major: the principal figures of the work.
    1. Protagonist and Antagonist in terms of conflict
      1. The protagonist is the central character. The protagonist is usually the hero, but not always. In many mysteries, the protagonist is the criminal.
      2. The antagonist is the source of conflict.
    2. dynamic and static in terms of structure
      1. if a major character changes during the course of the book as a result of events experienced or people encountered, he or she is a dynamic character.
      2. If there is no change, the character is static
    3. round or flat
      1. a flat character is a character who is presented with a single trait, not fully developed, has no complexity, and never surprises the reader by what he says and does.
      2. a round character is fully developed, real, believable, and is capable of surprising the reader convincingly.
  1. Minor – Most minor characters are flat.

You write minor characters into your book for various reasons:

  1. To advance the plot
  2. To enhance the development of the main characters
  3. To act as foils for the main characters
  4. To contribute texture
  5. To contribute to the development of suspense
  6. To help evoke a sense of place and atmosphere
  7. To provide contrast and variety
  8. To foreshadow

Hans Ostrom has a good set of guidelines to keep in mind about minor characters:

  1. Beware of stereotyping
  2. Be aware of the time lapses between appearances of a minor character.
  3. If you name a minor character, name him or her carefully.
  4. Minor characters should be genuinely functional.

If a minor character tries to hog a larger place in the story than you want — because all the minor characters are the main characters in their own stories, you know — you can do one of two things:

  1. Make the character more important
  2. Cut the character and give him/her his/her own story.

Major and Minor CharactersI did the second with a minor character in SIDESHOW IN THE CENTER RING. Uncle Shatsi just kept setting up his stand and yammering at me, until I finally wrote a short story with him as a major character. That story was published online long ago, but is just waiting to reappear. If I published it as a stand-alone short story, do you think people would pay 99 cents for it, or should I bundle it with other stories into a collection?

A WRITING PROMPT FOR YOU: Select a minor character from a famous book and think of a story featuring him or her.



I was born in Louisville, Kentucky, but now live in the woods in southern Indiana. Though I only write fiction, I love to read non-fiction. The more I learn about this world, the more fantastic I see it is.

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One thought on “Major and Minor Characters Outline

  1. Cairn Rodrigues

    March 24, 2014 at 9:44am

    The trouble with my “minor” characters is that I never know which one is going to either come back out of nowhere or burst forth from the chorus to claim a leading role.

    I learned to name them all well and make them all unique, just in case.

    Permalink  ⋅ Reply
    • Author

      Marian Allen

      March 24, 2014 at 10:15am

      I know. Uncle Shatsi in SIDESHOW IN THE CENTER RING was just a throwaway character, until he started hanging around wanting to tell me this thing that happened after the book was over. So he’s the narrative voice in “The Woman Who Wasn’t A Shavetail.”

      Permalink  ⋅ Reply
  2. Polly Iyer

    March 24, 2014 at 11:13am

    I always trying to develop my secondary characters, even small roles. Yes, sometimes they take over and become more important than I intended, but just because others have a small role, doesn’t mean they should be short-shrifted.

    Permalink  ⋅ Reply
    • Author

      Marian Allen

      March 24, 2014 at 11:16am

      If they start to take over too much, maybe that means our main characters aren’t strong enough, or that the story really belongs to a character we thought was minor. Or it could mean the character is just pushy and needs his or her own story. SHUT UP, BUD!

      Permalink  ⋅ Reply
  3. Katherine James

    March 24, 2014 at 1:48pm

    I tend to overdevelop my minor characters as my stories go on.

    What should be a novel set around a central character, ends up becoming a group ensemble, kind of like Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

    In Buffy, the show is initially based on her, but it ends up being more about her group of friends over time.

    Permalink  ⋅ Reply
    • Author

      Marian Allen

      March 24, 2014 at 2:02pm

      I like strong minor characters, Katherine — it’s one of the reasons I love Dickens so much.

      Permalink  ⋅ Reply

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