In yesterday's email, we talked about using the test in The People Code to get to know our main characters better. I've also found that it can be helpful for writing minor characters.
In the Scarlet Pimpernel stories and novels I mentioned yesterday, Percy always has the help of the dozen-plus loyal men in the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel. Even though I included only a handful of them in each screenplay, I didn't have the space to flesh them out the way I would do with the main characters. The source material also doesn't give much characterization for the League members. So I needed a way to make each man feel like an individual even with the limited screen time he got.
My first thought was to use the People Code test. But given its length, I didn't want to spend the time to put every League member through the whole thing. Besides, I didn't need that level of detail. Instead, I simply decided what color each man was, gave him a specialty, and tried to write him as the embodiment of one trait that's typical of the chosen color. The novels and stories suggested some of these details, but I picked most of them arbitrarily.
To help me keep everything straight, I made this table:
Name Color Defining Trait Specialties
Lord John Bathurst Blue Critical Negotiator, messenger
Lord Everingham White Silent* Reconnaissance
Sir Richard Galveston Red Bold Horses, command presence
Sir Philip Glynde Yellow Chatterbox Reconnaissance
Lord Edward Hastings Blue Worried Tailor
Lord George Holloway Yellow A teaser Talker
Anthony Holte Blue Perfectionistic Shelter & supplies
Lord Kulmsted Blue Easily offended Talker
Sir Edward Mackenzie Red Resourceful Sailor, weapons
Sir George Otterstrom White Kind Tailor, horses
Lord Saint Denys Yellow Enthusiastic Tailor
Lord Stowmarries White Patient Getaway driver
Lord Anthony "Tony" Dewhurst Yellow Fun-loving Talker
Sir George Vigor Blue Sincere Shelter & supplies
Sir Jeremiah Wallescourt Yellow Indomitable Weapons
*I gave Everingham a verbal rule of never saying more than five words at a time. It was fun to write him. 😁
**These traits aren't specifically in The People Code, but they were what I needed for the story.
This table made a useful quick reference while I was writing. It also helped me mix up who Percy takes with him on each mission, both to keep things interesting and to help the audience get a sense of how big the League is. (In fact, I didn't even use all the members mentioned in the source material.)
Adding even these fairly minor details did a lot to help the members of the League stand out from each other. If your minor characters are starting to look and sound like clones, try something similar to what I did. Just arbitrarily assign each character a color and a trait from that color. Then see where that takes you as you continue to write. And if you have to change it to meet the story's needs, go for it.
P.S. I'm in the process of developing a training program for aspiring writers, and I'd like your input. If you decided to buy such a program, what sorts of things would you want to see in it? Let me know in the comments!
(Thanks to UX Indonesia for sharing their work on Unsplash.)