Creating Character Extras to Enhance Your Story
By Shane P. Carr
©2001, Shane P. Carr
Issue # 2: 03/01/01
and Using Language in Fiction
times when you're writing a story, youll realize that you need to add
some characters to enhance your storys environment. These characters
will generally be extras. Much like many Hollywood productions
these extras will merely add flavor and atmosphere to your
storys environment. The extras
can be anybody in your story. Lets say, for instance, that
your two lead characters are sitting in a local diner having lunch.
Since they are in a diner, chances are there is someone serving them.
This person, waitress/waiter, is a story extra. The character
doesn't have the role of progressing the plot of the story, he or she is
merely there to enhance the environment and bring it to life. Since your
characters are in a diner, as long as its a good one, there should
also be other patrons. These patrons are extras as well. If you
portray them correctly, they will add a very realistic atmosphere to the
as a writer, you're thinking that you already have a large enough cast
for the story. You have created in-depth backgrounds on each. Youve
taken the time to get inside their heads and see how each one thinks.
Now you're asking if you have to do all this for these extra characters
as well. The answer, for the sake of every writers sanity, is
are, these characters will not have much more than a physical
description and perhaps a short piece of dialogue. Remember, we dont
need to know the background of these characters.
might wonder how you will come up with this cast of extras. You are
probably even grunting over the extra work this is going to cause when
you could be developing your plot. Dont worry. Creating an extra is
extremely easy to do, and doesnt require much thought.
youre a hermit, you encounter these extras everyday. Think
about the scene above in the diner; now think about your last real-life
trip to a diner. Consider the waitress who served you, and the other
customers who were seated nearby. See if you can describe some minor
details of each. Perhaps you overheard a mother, seated at the table
across from you, scolding her hyperactive child. Maybe at the table
behind you, you overheard a couple arguing.
What did these people look like? What was your perception of each
person? What did you learn or observe about each one?
How about the waitress? Did she appear to be overworked? Tired?
Did she initiate some brief conversation with you, or just take your
you see how the experience you had at the diner gives you all the
extras youll need for the scene? The only details you need are
the ones you perceived in your actual experience and youll have your
cast of extras.
depending upon the type of story your writing, you may want to use your
creative license as a writer to embellish upon the description of your
extras. You may want to add stereotypes, profound traits, or
enhanced personalities to your extras.
Perhaps your waitress is a blonde woman with a nice figure. If
you decide you want to use the stereotype of the blonde as an airhead to
add a comical element, by all means do so. This is part of your creative
license. Just keep in mind that you only want to enhance the environment
of your story. You dont want to distract your reader from the main
characters. You may even find that you can enhance your main characters
by having them play off an extra. Something about your main
characters personality can be revealed through a small piece of
dialogue. It may only be a preference for black coffee, but it will
still help develop an image of your main character.
the next time you go out someplace, try this exercise. It has worked
well for me on numerous occasions, and I now do it as habit. Wherever
you go bring a notepad. It doesn't t have to be anything big, just
something to write down brief thoughts and descriptions. Pay attention
to the people you see or interact with. Examine the people around you.
In your notes, briefly describe them. Pay attention to the varied
mannerisms of people. Heck,
I even give you permission to eavesdrop on a few conversations. Pay
special attention to the reasons you think some of these people would
make good extras. When you
get home and examine your notes, I think you will find that you have
quite a colorful and realistic cast of extras for your story.
keep in mind that, although this exercise works easiest for stories that
take place in the real world, you can easily tailor your extras for any
world or any genre.
Just pay attention to the world around you and you will soon see that you have a pre-made cast of thousands.
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