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.

minor characters

Minor characters make a world seem real

Here are the next 10 minor character archetypes.

20 – Tutor

Schools are for the rabble, and even boarding schools have a touch of the middle-upper class to them. Even the types of tutors available in your world can tell a reader things about it. A language tutor can give ideas about foreign lands. A fencing tutor can give insights into noble culture. A history tutor can be a nice method to instill that same sense of history in the reader.

19 – Poet

Oh please, be careful with this one. A poet is a wonderful character to use. He can convey philosophy without it sounding wrong coming out of his mouth. You can have the poet recite actual poetry as well, but bear in mind that the poetry will be yours, not some some that of some fictional poetic master. There is an overlap between authors of prose and poets, but it is a small one.

18 – Deserter

Oh what a fascinating character this can be. Who better to tell the ugly side of an army than one who risks execution to be free of them? You can deliver a great perspective with a lot of credibility. This is a soldier who has either a strong hatred of his own people or an abiding cowardice that makes deserting seem the safer option. Either one can be a gold mine.

17 – Zealot

A zealot is the epitome of everything that can go wrong with a religion. They make excellent villains, but you can also use them in secondary roles. They can provide opposition to the protagonist, exposing the underbelly of the local church, or even as a renegade from his or her order. You can also have their needs coincide with your protagonist’s, giving an opportunity to understand the reasons behind the obsession with their cause.

16 – Missionary

The flip side of the zealot is the missionary. They want to spread the word of their god or church, but are generally harmless about it. They can be quite valuable plot-wise if you want to redeem a religion in the eyes of your reader, especially if you have given a negative portrayal previously.

15 – Dreamer

The dreamer doesn’t have a profession so much as an attitude. This can be a means to inject a bit of idealism into a tale that could well use a bit of cheer. It works well in darker settings or in extremely light ones. In the dark, it can provide a lifeline to a discouraged reader (in an extremely dark tale, the dreamer can be swallowed up in that darkness as well). In light tales, it can be used as an unsubtle means to convey a theme *cough*Disney*cough*.

14 – Grizzled Soldier

He knows as much about the army as the deserter, if not more. He’s seen the horrors and can tell all the old war stories (a great use for him, by the way), but he’s come to grips with them. War isn’t for the faint of heart, and the grizzled soldier isn’t one of those. You can get the unvarnished truth from him (and possibly a salty version of it), whether it’s about military matters or just life in general.

13 – Con Artist

The con artist is a painter with words. The fact that what he paints with those words is lies doesn’t make the con artist any less enjoyable for a reader. You have an opportunity to develop some great, witty dialogue with this character, whichever side of the protagonist’s temper he falls on. There is no one the con artist isn’t willing to lie to, from his closest friends to his dearest enemies. A false trail or a trap can trace its start back to one of these professional liars. Of course, no one should know that until after the fact.

12 – Fence

There are people who steal things, and people who buy those stolen items. History’s first pawn brokers and money launderers, the fence is a go-between for thieves and the people who ultimately want the stolen merchandise (who may or may not be aware that it’s stolen). As such, a fence accumulates a wide network of shady affiliates. Usually these are the sort of people whom fences are unlikely to cross (say, by telling random strangers who they are). Then again, many a protagonist gets around those sorts of difficulties.

11 – Scribe

I’ll admit to a soft spot for this one. Normally a scribe is a background character. They take notes, pen missives, and generally take on a set of tasks somewhere between a secretary and a court reporter. They see things and hear things only by the privilege of being able to write them down, for people who are either too ignorant, lazy, or important to do so themselves. There’s a lot floating about in the mind of most scribes. An enterprising protagonist could do well to have a word with one.

50 Minor Characters on Slideshare

  • If you've got a worldbuilding question for me, drop a line here. I'm not sure yet how I'll go about answering it: with a blog post, in a YouTube video, a roundtable with other authors, or even just in a personal email. If I do answer your question, I'll definitely send you a quick note to give you a heads-up and say "thanks"!
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