Minor Character–Milo Grinnel

Today I saw another blog post on character development.  There are whole books on how to make realistic characters out of thin air.  As authors we spend hours, days, even months on building character histories, physical descriptions, motivations, and value systems, just to make the people jump from the page and seem more “real.”

But, sometimes, a little gem of a character pops onto the page, fully formed and becomes someone fun to write about and play with.  This is how I feel about several of my “minor” characters.  Take, for example, Milo Grinnel.

Milo came about because I needed a second reason for Daisy to go to her writing group leader’s home in Faith on the Rocks.  If you haven’t read Faith, this is a little bit of a spoiler alert, but doesn’t mess up any major plot lines.

Daisy thinks she’s going to Sandra’s to be asked to leave the writing group.  There’s plenty of reason for her to buy into that thought, and she comes with trepidation.  When she arrives, however, there’s another surprise for her–a date!  And, because I have a silly sense of humor, I wanted this date to be completely inappropriate.

That’s when Milo popped into my head.  I can see him so clearly that sometimes I think I’ve seen an actor who reminds me of him.  Here’s what I said in the book:

“A man as tall as Phillip (an ex-football player), but a quarter of his weight stepped forward.  He was about my age with grey hair receding past his ears and a smile no horse would own.  Teeth splayed themselves in all directions, the only commonality between the chompers being their exceeding length and yellowness.”

Now, I’m not quite sure exactly how Milo came about beyond that he was a delightfully fun solution to my problem of a reason for Daisy to go to Sandra’s.  But here’s a little more about Milo.

I had Milo new from Texas because I wanted him to have the politeness yet assertion of that area of the country.  I lived in Dallas for a while, and Milo was someone who would have fit right in there.  I made him an accountant because I like accountants, and the stereotypical occupation clashes with Daisy’s growing life as an amateur sleuth.

Milo’s teeth came from me.  I had horrid teeth while growing up and throughout my young adulthood (who knew that giving up soda pop would help so much?).   I had no idea how bad my situation was until I became the first in my family to experience braces. I also had a daughter with large, protruding teeth.  To this day, I love a huge smile–on other people.

Then the devil in me took over.  Of course Milo’s nickname would be “Grins.”  What else could it be? I recall spending some time trying to figure out a name where I could play off Milo’s smile. Milo Fang?  Milo Chompers? Milo Grinninbearit? Hmm. Grins. Grinninbearit. Grinnel. Easy enough to create a nickname from that last one.

And of course, Milo would be unaware of the reason people called him that, other than the shortened last name.

And Milo’s skinniness?  Can you remember Barney Fife from The Andy Griffith Show? I’ve watched some of those reruns on Netflix this summer. I’ve also met a few skinny guys in my life, and suffered the nickname Scrawny-Brawny in high school. Skinny’s not so bad.

I love Milo.  Wouldn’t want him for a boyfriend, mind you.  But he’s wonderful, with a lovely sense of irony about him.  A lot of his personality emerged unbidden in writing the chapter that he plays a significant role in.  The clues he drops about the real killer really endeared him to me more–some of which were truly unexpected until I was jotting things down in the text.  Plus, I giggled right through every passage with Milo in it.

I hope I can bring Milo back into another Daisy Arthur story sometime.  Am grinning thinking of this already.

What minor characters light up your life or writing?  I hope you have a playful week with them.

Minor Characters Steal My Heart

It’s easy to become fully engaged with heroes or even villains.  For the most part, they are larger than life. They contrast good and evil in wonderful threads throughout a story.  And when a good guy does something bad or a bad guy has a touching, “soft” moment, there is the slightest blur that makes those characters absolutely fabulous.

Imagine if Harry Potter didn’t have this “I’ll do it all on my own” kind of weakness.  If he followed all the rules and said only nice things to everyone, we may never have seen the wonderful success of the Harry Potter series of books.

Imagine if there were no inner-struggle that led Hannibal Lecter to help Clarice in Silence of the Lambs?  

By Frederick Barnard (1846-1896) third image down on the left (Digital image from LIFE) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Tiny Tim, by Frederick Barnard from Wikipedia Commons images

Where good and evil meet makes for both conflict and the occasional blurring of lines that grip us as readers and move stories to a level of believability that ensure those tales last.  Where good and evil meet, is also a wonderful place to find minor characters who steal my heart away.

Characters like Liesl in The Sound Of Music, or Queen Elizabeth in The King’s Speech. These “minor” characters add depth, new perspectives, and sometimes comic relief that sparkle a story the way sunlight sparkles on a lake’s surface to draw us in closer.

Interestingly, we often don’t have time in a work of fiction to add much detail about a minor character.  They walk into a scene, do their job and leave. Painted with a wide brush, these characters are little more than sketches for us to fill in with our own imaginations.

Look at Tiny Tim from A Christmas Carol.  He is so very sweet, innocent, and needy that our hearts go out to him.  If he became the center of the story, however, I don’t think any of us could stand him.  He would need to develop a habit of tripping the other children with his crutch or putting on imaginary illnesses to manipulate his parents into an amusing game of fetch if he were to be able to “carry” a story.

In my writing, I find these characters are often the most fun to play with. They are simple flights of fancy that come up from my subconscious to say hello, but stick in my imagination for months after.

Milo “Grins” Grinnel is just such a character.  I love him.  He is a gangly fellow with bad breath, protruding teeth, and not much of a way with women.  He was nothing more than an alternate reason for Daisy to be invited to her critique group leader’s house for dinner in Faith On The Rocks.

But as I was writing, Milo just kept me giggling all through the scene, and I still find myself wanting to write his full story.  I want him to somehow “win” the girl or whatever it is he’s looking for in life and live happily ever after.  Instead, he is a blind date who is so terribly not right for Daisy.

And then there is the horrible Mary, receptionist for a family counseling center.  I needed a way to block Daisy from finding someone, and what better way to accomplish this, than with a nerves-of-steel and heart-of-stone “good guy” gatekeeper?  Oh, I was so ready to smack that woman!  Yet, the stirring of these emotions as I wrote, helped make these people “real” to me.

If you get a chance to read my novel when it comes out next June, I hope you’ll enjoy these minor characters as much as I do.

Until then, look around.  There are “minor” characters in your life everywhere. Store clerks, telephone support people, a friend of a friend.  I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

Have a wonderfully peopled day!