Tom Hiddleston’s Captain James Nicholls was the perfect minor character for me in the film War Horse. The character, and the actor’s portrayal of him, just really struck me as a writer. He was a character I wanted to know more about; the second he showed up and showed his kindness and class, I was like, forget this crazy kid, I want to know who THIS GUY is!
Maybe I just reacted that way because I am a romance writer, and Nicholls just seemed like such a perfect candidate for a romance novel hero. If, that is, he actually survived the war. A young man who had no real idea what he was getting into, who was obviously sensitive and kind-hearted, who would have come home from such an experience changed irrevocably…? Yes, please!
I think the character sort of epitomized what minor characters are, at least some of the time, supposed to be–interesting people that you want to know more about. Everyone in this world has a history; everyone you meet is the center of their own world. Someone, somewhere thinks they are interesting.
Now, do you personally always find them interesting? Of course not. That’s why not all minor characters can be interesting. If a writer writes only interesting minor characters, then the landscape of their novel begins to look like Steinbeck’s fictionalized Travels with Charley (which, honestly, I can’t believe anyone actually took seriously because, wow, those conversations? Not how people talk, y’all). But some minor characters must be interesting, must be the sort of person that makes the main character remember that everyone else has their own life and point of view and goals, because we do sometimes meet–or even just see–people who remind us of that in our own lives. Just as it would be unrealistic for every person a protagonist met to be fascinating, it would be equally unrealistic for every person they met to be boring.