When you’re developing minor characters, there are several questions you should ask yourself when it’s time to insert one of these brand-new, not-very-significant characters into the story. Because while they might not have a lot of lines of dialogue (and they may not even appear more than once) there’s still plenty you can use them for!
Who are they?
An obvious first question to ask: Who is this minor character? What are they all about? What do they do? Are they an innkeeper? An assassin? A random nobleman? One of the antagonist’s many, many henchmen?
A minor character’s importance to the story varies greatly. But the first question you should ask yourself is who this character is and why they need to exist. A minor character may not be significant for our purposes, but they’re still (presumably) a person with their own thoughts, feelings, and lives. When developing a minor character, ask yourself what kind of background you want them to have and how that background would cause them to cross paths with your intrepid hero.
Speaking of which…
What is their relationship to the protagonist?
Are they friends? Family? Lovers? Strangers? What is this new person to the protagonist? Do they even interact directly with the protagonist? Or are they perhaps the sniveling servant of the antagonist? A minion, a mercenary, or some other minor enemy the protagonist may not even interact with directly?
Knowing what kind of relationship your minor character has with the protagonist/antagonist is crucial to figuring out when they should appear. Oftentimes, a minor character can be a great tool for transitioning between acts by revealing crucial information. They can also be a minor character who is nonetheless very important to our major characters, making them a catalyst for major events throughout the story even if they don’t technically appear that much in the story itself. For example, a loved one of the protagonist who is kidnapped by the antagonist.
What is their purpose?
Do you need them to share important information with the protagonist? Are they a sniveling little turd who reports to the antagonist/villain? Are they an innkeeper who shares important information that’s been spreading around town? Or a janitor who happened to overhear some crucial information? A poor family who have fallen victim to the nefarious antagonist and their schemes?
Ask yourself: What role does this character play in the story? How will the protagonist encounter them? What do they do or say that gives the reader new information, or the characters a new course of action?
Do they help move the story along?
Going off of the last point, ask yourself what’s the point of developing a minor character if not to help them move the plot along? Sometimes it’s the character you least expect who has crucial information, a relationship with an important character, gossip from the locals, or any number of other essential factors that you can use to your advantage.
Never count out a minor character. Sure, they might not appear as strong, as brave, as smart, or as pivotal to the future of your world as your protagonist and/or antagonist. But that doesn’t mean they can’t bring something important to the table. Ask yourself what it is your minor character can do or say that your protagonist (or antagonist) might find useful.
If they don’t, why add them?
What does this minor character do that a major character can’t? Maybe they’re a contact unrelated to the major characters. Or perhaps they don’t directly impact the plot at all, but the characters. A heartfelt chat that gives the protagonist purpose, gives them some character development. A sad moment that tugs at your heartstrings.
Something needs to be added that gives this character a reason to exist—something that your existing characters can’t just do themselves. Something new.