Trivial chracters

Question: How much detail should be given to trivial characters without overwriting?


Answer: You've pretty much answered your own question, as far as it can be answered in a general way.

It is a general rule in writing that you include the details necessary to tell the story and leave out everything else. So readers expect that the more they learn about a particular character and the more time they spend with that character, the more important that character must be. It's implicit. If the character is trivial, excessive detail is just distracting.

Of course, there are times when a character seems to be trivial when first introduced but later on plays, or is discovered to play, an important role. An example is the cliche from the mystery genre of having the butler be the murderer. It worked originally because no one in the British upper class paid close attention to butlers, so although the butler was ever present, he was overlooked as a potential suspect. But even in such stories, the reader expects to hear the butler's backstory (perhaps after the arrest) in order to make sense of the plot.

If the only reason a character exists is to contribute to the setting or atmosphere, serve as a red herring, or satisfy some point of logic (e.g. why isn't your Presidential candidate married?) a few key details may be all you need provide. The more important a character is to the story, the more details we expect to learn.

Unfortunately, I can't give an exact rule. Only you know your story. You have to decide how important a character is. And you may not know until the second or third draft. That's just how it is.

But at some point in the plannng, writing, or revising, you should develop a sense of how important a character is. Then you'll know whether to cut details that are not necessary or expand upon something that is.

Click here to post comments

Join in and submit your own question/topic! It's easy to do. How? Simply click here to return to Questions About Novel Writing.


 Step-by-Step Novel Planning Workbook


NEW! Make Money Writing Nonfiction Articles


"I've read more than fifty books on writing, writing novels, etc., but your website has the most useful and practical guidance. Now that I understand how a novel is structured, I will rewrite mine, confident that it will be a more interesting novel." - Lloyd Edwards



"Thanks to your "Create a Plot Outline in 8 Easy Steps," I was able to take a story that I simply just fooled around with and went willy nilly all over, into a clearly defined, intriguing battle where two characters fight to keep their relationship intact, and try to find a balance in control of themselves and their lives. Thanks to you, I'm not ashamed of the poor organization of my writing." - Nommanic Ragus

"I am so glad I found your site. It has helped me in so many ways, and has given me more confidence about myself and my work. Thank you for making this valuable resource, for me and my fellow writers. Perhaps you'll hear about me someday...I'll owe it to you." - Ruth, Milton, U.S.A.

"I never knew what to do with all the characters in my head, but since discovering Dramatica I am writing again in my spare time. Thank you for making this available. Yes, it is a bit complex, and it does take time, but I love it because it works." - Colin Shoeman

"I came across your website by chance. It is a plethora of knowledge, written in a simplistic way to help aspiring writers. I truly appreciate all of the information you have provided to help me successfully (relative term) write my novel. Thank you very much!" - Leo T. Rollins

"I can honestly say that this is the first website that is really helpful. You manage to answer complex questions in relatively short articles and with really intelligent answers. Thank you for taking the time to write these articles and sharing them so generously." - Chrystelle Nash

"...had no idea that a simple click would give me such a wealth of valuable information. The site not only offered extremely clear and helpful instructions but was a very enjoyable read as well. The education from your wonderful site has made me a better writer and your words have inspired me to get back to work on my novel. I wish to give you a heartfelt thanks for How to Write a Book Now, sir." -- Mike Chiero