You’ve got your heroes and your villains. You’ve even got a sidekick. But who inhabits the rest of the world?
World-building is as much about people and cultures as it is about geography and magic. Minor characters are like mannequins that you can dress up in your world’s minutiae. Their attire, their mannerisms, their occupation: all can attest to elements unique to your world. You can also use them as a mirror held up to your protagonist. How they interact with the minor characters tells you a lot about their personality, their beliefs, their prejudices.
Here are the next 10 minor character archetypes.
30 – Reporter
Better in a more modern setting, a reporter can be a protagonist, but you can also put them into a minor role. They are great at digging up facts that would otherwise bog down the storyline if you had the main character off chasing them. Their motivations are fairly easy to grasp for a reader; they need little explanation for helping beside wanting to report the results of the protagonist’s struggle (preferably first, and with insider details).
29 – Snitch
Pay a certain kind of person enough money, and you can get them to tell you anything. Of course, that works both ways, and your protagonists is as likely to be on the “sold” side of the secret information ledger as the “buy” side. A snitch can be a great plot instigator, either acting on information provided by one, or chasing one down in retribution.
28 – Dockworker
Like castle servants, they form the background noise of a busy workplace. The goods from secret business deals, the passengers coming and going, the names of every ship and crew member. No one dockworker knows all of this of course, but in the aggregate, they know more than any harbormaster could dream. Have your characters hang around the docks (or dockside taverns) and keep both their ears and their purses open, and you can learn a lot.
27 – Initiate
The initiate is a wonderful character for introducing the tenets of a religion to your story. Everything they’re learning is shiny and new to them, and you’d be hard pressed to get them to shut up about it. From basic beliefs to the reasons for various festivals and rituals, the initiate knows them all – because there was just a test on it (which the initiate totally aced).
26 – Seneschal
A seneschal is more than a butler, less than a lord. He keeps a castle or keep running. Since few stories involve the protagonist concerning himself with the proper, orderly functioning of a structure (and very often hindering same), the seneschal is more likely a minor antagonist than an ally. Still, in most cases, the seneschal isn’t genuinely opposed to the protagonist’s aims, but just wants to be free of the minor cataclysms that are sure to follow him or her around.
25 – Bodyguard
“No one talks to the boss.”
Bodyguards are a mark of importance, and a character’s relationship to their guards can tell you quite a bit about them. Are they treated with respect? Is the protectee deferential in matters of their safety? Do the bodyguards get treated like personal assistants, or lackeys? Either way, before dealing with an obviously important personage, your characters may find themselves dealing with the hired muscle first.
24 – Apprentice
Like the initiate, the apprentice is new to their occupation. Unlike the initiate, there’s even odds the apprentice is unhappy about it. Chores and grunt work are more common than enlightened learning in the apprentice’s daily routine. Even if it’s a desirable vocation, the apprentice may chafe at the time spent “wasted” on the basics. This might incline them toward mischief, shortcuts, or backstabbing. You can use an apprentice to cause trouble, or to provide aid and information against their employers, depending on the relationship.
23 – Constable
The constable is the day-to-day street prowler of major cities. A constable is usually an everyday sort, without high-minded ideals or very much corruption. They can turn a blind eye if someone greases their conscience first, but generally they are law-and-order at the club-and-shackles level. They break up tavern brawls, round up drunken louts, and chase down market thieves. Sometimes their existence is more important than their presence. Just the implication of constables nearby (or possibly nearby) is enough to keep thieves (and readers) tense.
22 – Mercenary
It’s not personal, it’s business. The mercenary is usually military might for hire, but can also be expanded to include assassins, thieves, and spies. The bottom line is the bottom line; someone’s paying for a service that their servants, staff, or employees can’t handle themselves. If this runs afoul of your protagonist, money can sometimes broker an understanding. However, once a contract is in place, some mercenaries protect their reputation for reliability over short-term cash. Those are the most dangerous sort.
21 – Hobbyist
Rare pottery collections, studies of birds, little models of sailing ships … even in a fantasy world, some folk have too much time on their hands and delve into hobbies. Some of these fine folks even go so far as to take an obsessive interest in a particular field of study. They are unlike scholars in the sense that their methods may not be entirely rigorous, but they may be more incline to step out of doors and go see the object of their passion. This means that you might have some potential for a tag-along. Even if you don’t want to saddle your protagonist with an enthusiastic, incompetent shadow that spins every situation into a parable about the Ancient Kheshi (or whatever their particular field might be), they can have a great scene filling in the needed gaps in the protagonist’s knowledge.
As a side bonus, many readers may see bits of themselves in this character. Tread lightly with how you treat their obsession, because you may offend readers if you portray them as fools for loving something strange too fiercely.