I recently talked about how helpful it was to write the backstory for my characters. That exercise went so well, I decided to write the front story for them. Find out what they planned to do with all that history I had given them.
What makes the front story (totally my term here) different from basic plotting is that you aren't trying to craft an exciting story. It's not about finding a cool plot, it's about figuring out how that one character fits in with the rest of your story. What's their life like when the protag isn't around? Kinda like Shaun in Shaun of the Dead. The zombie apocalypse has come, but that's all going on on another street (where Buffy s saving the world probably) and he's just living his life during this time. What he's doing is separate from the "hero," even though their paths will cross.
I took each non-main character and wrote out their story as if it was their book and they were my POV character. I didn't try to craft a new tale or anything, and some characters had short paragraphs if they didn't do much, but what this summary did was allow me to see how that character fit into the overall story and where I might make better use of them.
For secondary characters this was much easier, because they already had roles to play (and characters I wrote the backstory for were easier still to write the front story). For minor characters it was even more enlightening, because I found ways to make their small roles really matter to the plot.
Looking at the book from different character's perspective gave me some new perspectives as well. I got to see:
- What they wanted independently from my protagonists that could be potential conflicts.
- What their scene goals were when they were interacting with my protags.
- What they were doing when they weren't on screen.
Both characters are great mirrors for my protagonists. They allow me to show what their lives would be like if they screwed up or didn't solve the problems I threw at them in the book. They're like symbolic layers to my main characters, and through them I can show aspects of my POVs they couldn't otherwise see on their own. Consequences that could be their fate if they took a different path.
Small problems that were minor issues my protags had to deal with were now cautionary tales, foreshadowing, or even a display of the risks they were taking. All things I wouldn't have seen had I not looked at these character's stories closer. And all things that will make the book richer.
Try looking at your non-POV characters, no matter how large or small their role. Write out how their story would go if readers followed them during the course of your novel. Think about:
- What are they doing while the protags are solving the novel's conflicts?
- How would the major plot events affect them?
- How would the protag's actions affect them?
- What would they do to protect themselves?
- What would they know? Not know?
- Would they try to help? Hinder? Stay out of it?
- What would their reaction be to the major reveals? The minor reveals?
- Whose side would they be on?
Other characters will have plenty to offer and might be in the right place at the right time just when you need them. (Like my minor characters whose lives just got more complicated now that I see what I can do with them).
While the story centers around your protagonist, try thinking about how it affects the other people in your book's world. You might find ways to deepen your story you never knew existed.
How often do you think about how a secondary or minor character affects your story? Do you give them lives off screen? Think about what they do when they're not in a scene. Is there anything about those characters that can make your story richer?