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Pay Attention to Minor Characters

November 17, 2016

A surprise in the feedback I get from readers of Rules for Giving is those that express an affinity for minor characters in the novel. One of those characters is Aaron Higbee. Aaron is the IT manager at the advertising agency owned by the protagonist. Two women in a book club that read Rules for Giving though Aaron was great. They loved him. 

 

It caught me off guard. Aaron has three appearances in the novel, one of which is a phone conversation. I don’t even give a physical description of him, although I do give his character an addiction to nasal spray. The protagonist observes that it is not uncommon to walk into Aaron’s office and find him sitting in front of his computer screen, addressing some programming issue, with a plastic bottle of nasal spray hanging out of his nostril.

 

Incidentally, there are significant numbers of people who report that they have an addiction to nasal spray. Not sure where addiction experts classify it as such, but in any event, its snot funny.

 

HAR!

 

The other character is Enrique, who works in the kitchen at the golf course frequented by the protagonist. Enrique gets two scenes in the novel, at the beginning and towards the end. Again, no physical description. I don’t even give him a last name. I allude to his wife and son. In an earlier draft of the novel I hint that he might be undocumented, but that got edited out for brevity. The backstory, which gradually comes out in the narrative of the novel, is that in the past the protagonist had tickets to a baseball game that he couldn’t use and he gave them to Enrique. Turns out the seats were field level, behind home plate. Ever since, whenever the protagonist walks into the golf course coffee shop, Enrique hovers over him, so much so that it is embarrassing.

 

Enrique gets noticed, however, because the scenes he is in are key ones.

A nineteen-year-old kid I know is reading the novel. He is Hispanic like Enrique. “I like Enrique,” he told me. “Hope I see him again.”

 

The lesson here is that all characters are important, but as writers, we must seek balance. If you give too much physical description of a character, or otherwise make a big deal over them, then the reader expects more from that character. If you get feedback from your readers that they kept expecting a character to come back into the story, then perhaps you placed too much emphasis on them.

 

And if you do get feedback from a reader that they liked a minor character, take note of it. Perhaps you have a basis for the protagonist in your next novel.

 

See ya' later. 

 

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