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May 13, 2019

Developing Minor Characters 101: A Neville Longbottom Exposition

By Madison Bringhurst.

Though you could write an entire soliloquy about the amazing character arch Neville Longbottom has, his unfailing ability to try, or how he overcame a tragic beginning, the real genius of Neville Longbottom’s character is in JK Rowling’s ability to use him.
In the fourth book of the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Neville is shown clumsily falling into the trap of a trick stair after dinner one evening. The scene paints a vibrant image of the quirky nature of JK Rowling’s magical world and pairs it with a light-hearted laugh. Though this great moment in itself would make the scene worth having in the final draft, its implications for later in the book are what make Neville more than just a comic relief character. Later in the book, Harry finds himself trapped by the same stair. Rather than having Harry explain this during a heated moment, thus taking away from the urgency of the scene, Rowling shows the necessary details earlier using one of her favorite expositional devices: Neville Longbottom.

When creating minor characters, the key is to make them work for you. It is interesting to note that another name for minor characters is supporting characters. They should do just this. Find ways to fit them into your story that feel both natural and beneficial. Like Neville Longbottom, make sure the moments they have in the story have a purpose.
Another key is only sharing the details that truly benefit the finished product. When writing about a world you have spent countless hours creating, it is easy to get lost in the details. Selecting only information that is beneficial to the reader can be one of the hardest tasks when writing a novel. No matter how difficult this is, it is a necessity when developing your minor characters. Using only those details that allow them to support your main character will help the story stay on track. These characters should never support themselves. Everything we see them do should move the story and expose the main character. Though they will likely play a larger role in your mind, this information will slow the story down and take some of the flow away from your reader’s experience.
Build your world with them. Just as Neville is often seen misusing spells and putting himself in hilariously painful situations, your minor characters should color your world with important details. Use them to explain hard concepts through scenarios that show your reader without you having to tell them.
Minor characters are key to a successful story. Though, like any good thing, if used incorrectly, it can spell disaster for your project. Turning your supporting cast into a supportive cast will help your work stand out against the competition.


About the Author: Madison Bringhurst
Madison is an aspiring YA author seeking representation for her first novel, The Sifting, which explores the concepts and morality behind the eugenics movement through the eyes of genetically engineered young woman. She is working on two other YA projects that will be in the editing phase soon.
Twitter Handle: @MadisonBringhu1