Tuesday, July 7, 2009


This morning I remembered a review I'd seen for the Twilight movie. The guy said that he'd gone to see it, because he knew one of the extras. His words, which I am forced to paraphrase due to insufficient memory recall, were something to the effect of, "If you go see this movie, see it for the extras. I firmly believed all of them in their roles. The leads, not at all." I, personally, make no comment on this, though I will concur that I believe the extras in their roles, so kudos to them.

This got me thinking about the importance of extras and minor characters. In the book Breaking Dawn, I absolutely loved when Garrett, who just got zapped off his feet by the vampire Katie, says, "If I let you up, will you knock me down again, Katie?" (Maybe it's just me, but when I read that, I immediately reached for my copy of Taming of the Shrew. Oh, Petruchio.) As basically extras, they stole the show as far as I was concerned.

Do we need "extras" in stories? Of course. Do we need them to be really good extras, good characters in their own right? I think definitely. True, it probably doesn't help if they are terminally more awesome/interesting than your main characters, nor if they are much more believable, but that's where the balance comes in. You don't need to write a mini-character just to make them cool or witty. They only need to be there to serve whatever role you need them to play. They just have to be believable in that role.

There's no need to spend a paragraph on the life of the cashier checking the MC through as he buys a 6 pack of Sierra Mist, but flesh her out a bit. Maybe she has a nose piercing, the same hairstyle as his mother, or speaks with a Boston accent. There can be little details that make the filler character more believable as a human being. I just wrote a few extras for my WIP. One is a foreigner and two are brother and sister. Why? Mostly, because. Those seemed like nice details for characters whose personalities didn't matter overmuch to the whole story.

The only thing to be wary of is how much you flesh them out. As I once heard an author say, "If you just wrote 500 words about a tree, then something better happen with that tree." They were right. If you devote three paragraphs to the man your MC is standing next to in the elevator, he should be someone like the MC's girlfriend's husband, not just a random guy who happens to live in the building. Otherwise, you run the risk of the reader getting distracted wondering why you spent three paragraphs talking about the man.

Are extras important to a good book? Do you use a lot of extras in your writing or hardly any? How much time (in the book and out) do you devote to the extras?

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