Primarily focusing on primary characters within a script seems like an excellent way to go about telling your story. And why not? These are your primary characters. They’re who the audience will primarily engage with. While this train of thought makes sense, it will do nothing but lead to a flat script.
In life, the focus is not always on your “primary” characters (friends, relatives, etc). While these individuals make their presence known on a more regular basis, they are always highlighted by the interaction of minor characters. While you may not know intimate details about these minor individuals, they are developed enough in your real world to influence your actions/choices on some level.
As a screenwriter, you must avoid the pitfall of ignoring minor character development. Screen time must never determine development and character concepts.
“But They’re In Only Two Scenes…”
The biggest issue many novice screenwriters have with this topic boils down to time dedication. If your life is like mine, scheduling writing time for personal projects is difficult, if not sometimes impossible. Time constraints lead screenwriters to believe they simply can’t dedicate time to minor characters when an entire story is itching to be written.
My response to this: If you truly wish to create a real world with real people highlighted by real influences, then you must focus on who these minor characters truly are. Even if the characters are in one or two scenes, if they are featured in your story they must be developed.
Developing Minor Characters
Of course, it would be fruitless to engage in minor character development with the same intensity and scope as primary characters. Nonetheless, establishing minor character background can be effectively accomplished with detail-rich outlines that don’t encompass a significant time commitment.
When developing minor character backgrounds, answer the following questions with a decent amount of detail (avoid single sentence descriptions; aim for a paragraph or two at minimum):
(1) Who is this character in terms of the story?
(2) What is the basic history of this character?
(3) What does this character do for a living?
(4) What is the relationship between this character and the primary characters?
(5) Why are they featured in the story? What function do they serve?
(6) What was this character doing immediately before entering the scene?
(7) What are the objectives/goals of this character? (Outline the objectives and goals even if they have nothing to do with the script)
(8) What does the character do immediately after exiting the scene?
(9) Why is the character only in a select number of scenes? What is the purpose of their involvement?
(10) Would the script benefit by eliminating or increasing the role of this character?