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.

40 – Cook

What the people of your world eat can say a lot about them. From the base ingredients to the sophistication of their palettes or the technology used to cook, food holds many subtle clues. A cook might also know details of a household that might be otherwise closed to outsiders.

39 – Huntsman/Ranger

Whether hunting, exploring, or patrolling, a ranger is the master of the woodlands. A ranger knows what to eat, where to find water, and how to track man or beast. The ranger makes a good sidekick for adventures that drag city-folk out into the wilderness.

38 – Jester

The king will have a man’s head cut off for second-guessing him, but a jester can insult him to his face. There is a special magic in humor that cuts through lies and lays bare uncomfortable truths for all to see. A jester can give candid opinions about both important personages and the general state of a kingdom. They may do so in rhyme, song, or joke. A writer with a particular talent in one of these areas may do well to show it off via a jester’s dialogue.

37 – Herbalist/Apothecary

There are whole stories to be had with herb lore. You can make them the center of a quest (looking for ingredients), a consultant on all things flora, or a sinister poisoner. They aren’t necessarily physicians, but often fill the role when treating sickness rather than injury is the focus. They can give hints about the world’s level of medical development as well as give interesting information about plant life and potions.

36 – Noble Offspring

Nobles hold a great deal of power in most worlds that have them. Their children bask in that reflected power. Does it make them petty, vain, or cruel? Does it inspire them to follow in their parents’ footsteps? Are they bitter about a poor chance of inheriting (for younger siblings)? You can tell a lot about the character of a world by the interactions of the people who run it. You can learn a lot about nobles by watching how their children behave.

35 – Sibling

There are few relationships as complicated as those between siblings. Growing up, they vie for the affections and attention of their parents, creating a natural rivalry. It can also be one of the most steadfast of relationships – an ally that can never be corrupted or supplanted. Of course, that assumes a healthy sibling relationship. A brother or sister gone bad can be devastating: they know all your protagonist’s childhood secrets, and probably most of their weaknesses.

34 – Harbormaster

A harbormaster keeps track of ships and cargo. He will know all of the legitimate activities in a port, and has a fair idea of the illicit ones as well, even if he’s struggling against them (and there’s no rule that he can’t be on the take, allowing those activities for a price). If your protagonist needs information on ships’ arrivals and departures, who captains them, or when someone may have arrived in town (assuming they were noteworthy), the harbormaster may have that information. A harbormaster is usually a very busy person, so don’t give your protagonist an easy time getting that information.

33 – Jailor

Sometimes (oftentimes?) a goodly character runs afoul of the strictest interpretations of the law. Whether the protagonist has gotten apprehended, or some associate was the unfortunate party, knowing someone on the opposite side of the bars can be crucial. The jailor knows who is behind bars, but not always why. Most of the time, the jailor has a job to do and would rather not get involved in the “why” of matters. As such, they’re not great world-building tools, but they can be excellent plot-driving tools. One way you can do a bit of world-building with them though, is the treatment of prisoners. However, you’ll most often have characterized the justice system of your world before your protagonist delves this far into it.

32 – Bureaucrat

The bureaucrat will make you long for the days when villains wanted to wipe out humanity. Instead, your protagonist will have to navigate the byzantine pathways plotted out by the bureaucrat’s superiors. Whether you can get by with bribery or persuasion, or whether you force your characters to play along, will tell about the ethics of your world (or at least the spot immediately behind the paperwork-stewn desk). Play this character lightly though, since most readers read to escape from a world like that.

31 – Guide

A secret hideout; a trackless wilderness; a little used mountain path. There are plenty of places where a character can’t be expected to find their own way. Maps can work, but lack the personal touch of the guide. A guide can be a helpful local, a hired employee, or a devious traitor. If they play a large role in the plot, they can also double as a sidekick.

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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