The beauty of common people

The beauty of common people

The beauty of common people: keep them boring, or shake things up!

Every story has “common” characters who keep showing up in novels because they may be significant to moving your story along or they may be just there as a mention.

They don’t have any kind of past trauma, and they may not be the lead, they are just as important. For starters, it gives the reader a sense of realism – not everyone lives a dramatic life, and even the people who seem most insignificant in your life can play a huge role. Or, they have the potential to shake things up a bit, particularly in your writing.

And just like in life, if you didn’t have these “common” people who don’t bring drama everywhere they go, it would be boring, right?

How common characters can shake things up

Your common characters could come into your writing by simple name drops. And you have two options – you can keep them as being boring characters who are simply there to add life to the story, OR you could use those characters to shake things up later in the story.

Here’s a few examples:

  • If your novel is about crime, as your story unfolds, perhaps an old friend’s name might come through in your investigation. Your memories of that person are pretty standard – they never did anything exciting, they were simply floating through life without creating issues. But, they could become a central part of the investigation (and perhaps even the killer).
  • You might consider protagonists workmates. If your character is a CEO of a multimillion-dollar enterprise, there is most likely someone who is instrumental in helping him to achieve his goals but wishes to remain anonymous. If you want to expand on this role later in the novel, you can easily turn the story around so that the workmate is someone who secretly objects to his boss’s moving up the ladder, leaving him behind even though he’s been with the firm for a number of years.
  • There are neighbours who you don’t give the time of day to, however, by a chance meeting they eventually play a significant role in your story. What about the lead’s mother or father-in-law? How would they fit into the story? They could well end up hiding many secrets you discover along the way. This secret will change the whole dynamic of your lead’s relationship making your story even more interesting.

Minor characters

If your novel is a romance, there are many options here for minor characters. Your lead may be a bit of a Lothario and one of his conquests shows up at a most inappropriate time and place. Or an ex-girlfriend whom he may have completely forgotten about, decides to get in touch.

Just remember that your characters don’t always have to be exciting, and they don’t always need to bring drama into the story for them to play a part. Also keep in mind that too many common characters who are simply there for show will slow the story down. So don’t go overboard with the “extras”.

How do you determine common characters?

Have you ever sat in a shopping centre and people-watched? This is a great opportunity to create a minor character for your novel. There might be one person that stands out as memorable, whether it’s the way they’re dressed or their mannerisms, or what they eat. They might be just the character you’re looking for to include in one of your scenes.

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