In previous blog posts, I’ve discussed how you can use characters to generate plot. Naturally, you can also use known plot points to determine essential character traits that will need to be incorporated. If you know there will be a scene where your character will have to decide to trust someone, then, until that point, your character should be relatively suspicious and withdrawn. If there will be a scene where they find their courage, then, again, similar situations should make them hesitate with fear.
In the general scheme of things, taking plot points to generate character traits isn’t a particularly bad thing. If you’re really good at plotting but terrible at character development, it may be the best way for you to build your cast. However, I would also recommend against relying on this method too heavily.
A good story interweaves its character, plot, and setting to create realistic and challenging obstacles for its characters to overcome and grow from. In the end, more than anything, we fall in love with stories because we fall in love with characters that we see fighting against their greatest challenges. We see them reach some of their lowest points, and yet, when they carry on, we see our own struggles and believe that it will all turn out for the better for us, too.
What can happen, when we draft our characters specifically to carry out a plot, is that we can forget characters are not just this story. Their lives are not just this plot. It is just one–if large, perhaps–part of the main character’s life, and quite possibly a minuscule part of another’s. Essentially, it becomes too mechanical to feel real. The MC must do B to reach X, and then do C to reach Y, and if B and C don’t quite align, it will make the main character look stilted.
In a way, that’s why minor characters exist. Of course, they’re in the story because it’s difficult to write a story that involves only one person, but while they’re there, they can act almost as wild cards, throwing a wrench in what might be expected.
However, your main character really shouldn’t be the only character in your story that has a personality that jumps off the page. Oftentimes, we as readers can fall in love with the minor characters just as much as, if not more than, the main characters themselves.
A well-crafted minor character can remind us as readers that the world is much bigger and more mysterious than any one of our problems. A well-crafted character serves a function in the story, or else that character is a waste, but they likewise are not there solely for a plot point. Every character, like every person, should have their own motivations, conflicts, flaws, desires. Give them that, and suddenly this one story feels like a web of stories. It’s a web of problems, some of which might not be a problem for the main character, yet that does not negate the severity of the conflict for the minor character.
Of course, it can be difficult to delve so deeply into one character, let alone the entire cast of people that make an appearance in your novel. More than anything, it’s important to get an essence of a character, keeping in mind that the degree of importance will determine the degree to which you should develop even the minor character. Know who they are, and why they have arrived on scene–as in, what they intend to gain by being there–and know how badly they want what they want, how far they’re willing to go. The more scenes they appear in, the more you have to know about them keep their actions in character.