Your main characters are deep and you’ve really taken the time to make them well-rounded. Your storyline is compelling, and you’ve made a point to really figure out the important plot points in your piece. However, you find that your story is still missing something. This is where your background characters can come into play.
There may be a friendly cashier at the local market, an old friend who is passing through town, or the annoying kid next door who never seems to turn his music off even in the wee hours of the morning. Whoever your background characters may be, they need to be taken seriously. Time must be spent on making them a real part of the story.
This is where beginning writers can often fall short. They focus too much on their main characters, and neglect to show the rich story around them through others they encounter.
Think about your own life. Yes, there are key players who make a big impact on your daily life. But there are also people who may not be at the center of your focus that still make a difference in what is going on around you. They can create strong feelings in you, and make or break your plans. There are people who used to be close with you who you will now barely wave to when you see them around town. There are people you want to draw into your life more, and some you hope will keep their distance.
Each one of these individuals has their own lives, and they are just as intricate as your own. They each want to succeed at their own goals, have their own agendas, and some of them may see you drastically differently than you see them. Your background characters need to reflect this as well. They each have their own story to tell, and it is no less important than your main character’s. Even if it doesn’t play a big role in the story you are trying to convey, it can’t be negated entirely.
Consider how your background character’s lives impact how they see the world. This will help you determine how they will act in a certain situation, and give you a chance to more realistically portray them. Your main characters may know certain details about these individual’s lives, but others they may be entirely clueless about. They may gather bits of information over time, and this may alter how they interact with the individual. There may even be circumstances where these seemingly less important characters end up being more influential in your story than you had planned due to you fleshing them out a bit more.
Take the time to create background characters that lead full lives to add more to your story. Remember, they don’t exist to simply interact with your main characters. These interactions are only a portion of their day.