Sunday, 7 February 2010

Minor Characters

Characters, especially minor characters, can end up a bit lifeless if you don't watch them (especially in zombie fiction, though there it might be intended. Sorry, even as I write that, I realise how bad the pun is). Now, in proper fiction, I'm sure we should all be spending weeks over each one, trying to make them genuine, well rounded individuals, but frankly, if all I'm after is a cheap laugh around chapter four, I can't be bothered. Here then are some tips for making characters odder, funnier, or simply more outlandish, that have nothing whatsoever to do with making them better or more rounded:

  1. Get the name right. Sometimes a name tells you everything about a character. Suitably overblown names can be funny in themselves, and I must admit I'm a sucker for the overly posh double barrelled surname. You can build in puns or in-jokes too, if you're careful, and you realise that no one will ever take them seriously ever again. Middle names are your friend here, since John Smith becomes a lot more intriguing if we find out that he is in fact John Oberon Smith. Did his parents have an unnecessary love for the works of Shakespeare? Is he secretly the king of the elves when he's not busy doing (probably a very boring) job?
  2. Dress them up. How much information do people think they get about us from the way we dress? Lots, probably, so having the character dress slightly outlandishly can be a great way of marking them as a bit "different". Merely going Goth doesn't qualify, because it's been done so much, but sticking fluffy pink slippers on them might.
  3. Give them a hobby, an interest, or a habit. I can't, off the top of my head, recall the name of the more thuggish villain in Terry Pratchett's 'The Truth'. I can, on the other hand, remember that he said "-ing" rather than swearing properly, knew a surprising amount about art history, and combined a weakness for white powders of all kinds with a complete inability to pick out talcum powder from the other sort. Yes, it's cheap and obvious and doesn't give you a rounded character, but that's not what we're doing.
  4. Give them some power or talent, and then undermine or twist it. Tom Holt's favourite with this seems to be taking the fabulous and making it into "just a job". Wizards who aren't much good at magic are also a staple here, as are heroes who have to watch what they kill, thanks to laws about endangered species.
  5. Give them a slightly unique worldview. Too unique, of course, and they don't make sense, but if you can come up with a train of logic that nevertheless ends up in complete nonsense, or overlooks one crucial fact, then funniness should follow.

4 comments:

Wendy (aka quillfeather). said...

You write well. Very very well.

Always enjoy your posts :)

stu said...

Thanks. I try.

MG Higgins said...

These are fantastic tips that I haven't seen before. I'm going to print this out. Thanks!

stu said...

I'm glad it managed to be helpful.