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Nuke 'Em 'Till They Glow!! - The  Early Years

No Such Thing As… Minor Characters
Written by Benjamin A. Oliver
Artwork by Esa Karjalainen
July 11, 2003

ASKMinor Characters: It's All in the Details

Sometimes, it's not easy coming up with a subject to discuss. Nevertheless, I feel it necessary to talk about the importance of "minor" characters and discuss the fact that even minor characters aren't really so minor, when we come to think about it.

I've often been fascinated by how some people seem to like the random personas that I've included in the stuff I've written so far. I never seem content to stick with the mundane, canon, or the usual material floating around. Whenever I write fan fiction, for example, it seems that I always have to include a random crossover or dump in a character that I think would be nifty to have in that situation.

Unknown to many, I wrote a Jurassic Park fanfic and a pair of self-insertion stories before I started releasing Nuke 'Em 'Till They Glow!! to the general public on the FFML. Those stories never saw the light of day, although I was able to turn one in for an assignment in Junior High. The Jurassic Park story included two heavily-armored, power-suit-wearing, time-traveling guys who desperately wanted to save the park—for no reason, it seemed, except for the fact that I, the author, wanted them to. That story's characters and their capabilities were, of course, overkill for such a down-to-earth setting as Jurassic Park. I wrote it when I was 13 or 14, and now most of the more experienced authors look down at such stories as pointless and self-fulfilling. BUT THE POINT IS that from early on, I started learning the basics, the do's and don'ts of storywriting. I thought, despite their obscene levels of power, the pair were still interesting characters and made mistakes, such as accidentally killing dinosaurs and damaging property and such.

If you think that's bad, the original draft of the NETTG fanfic's first chapter included a debate between Sailor Pluto and Star Trek's Q about destiny and the things that went wrong needing to be corrected—in fact, NETTG was actually designed as a sort of sequel series to my SI precursor stories. Both SP and Q had their debates and fascinating characters…

But then I looked at the wacked-out plotline that followed and eventually decided that it would be so much better if I actually decided to take it seriously and make it its own story. The Moonlight Atom Boy became the Atomic Starlight Knight, Q made no apperances, and we added some ArbyFish to the mix. My story—my magnum opus, the most serious work I had ever managed to sit down and write—was still pretty dang warped when all was said and done.

The only thing that really managed to keep it all together were the characters that got made up. ASK was the first big anchor that kept things running and interesting. Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon was a story about Love, Justice, and Triumphing over evil through sheer, unadulterated naiivete! And here was this guy coming in just wanting to blow things up. Kind of throws things out of whack, doesn't it?

For a time, NETTG was a story about ASK trying to find a way back to himself. Gradually, as I became a better writer, Terra acquired more personality, followed by the borrowed SM cast, and soon, even no-name characters like Admiral StarKnight's Tactical and Communications Officers started to become a bit more endearing. Slowly, the minor characters demanded more and more screen time, and chapter size ballooned—or exploded, rather—into mammoth proportions. Sailor Moon's evil General Jadeite had a personality problem, changing the character entirely into a cute Guardian, Sam Beckett had huge amounts of pointless action and dialogue, and Sailor Stylin' got her own spinoff series.

You never know what "minor" characters may turn into. Arby was a fun bit of extreme comic relief and insanity for the first few chapters, and then becomes the main plot device for the season-ender battle in chapter ten. He later went on to become a system admin for the Yggdrassil universe-controlling computer, installing Windows on the main server and crashing the whole thing—and he insists that it was a perfectly proper thing to do. I mean, in chapter seven, there's this guy from the Silver Millennium who knows where all the secret ancient magical weapons' caches are, and insists on continuing only to sell formal wear despite all of that. In the storyline arc that takes place in the past, Terrifying gets a pair of doting servants called Huggyn and Kyssin that are loyal to her and among her only friends. And Lord Giles Tranquility—Queen Serenity's husband in NETTG—shows up at a random moment unannounced to save the day just because it needed to be saved!

I've often thought: "Hmm, I seem to have built up a lot of extra unnecessary minor characters, haven't I?" And then I reply, "Oh, gee, ya THINK?!" And yet, when I ask myself when and how to get rid of them, my only options are to just plot it so they don't show up anywhere, or to simply kill them off and be done with it. Killing never works—I tried that with Arby, and he just kept writing himself back in. Fiendish li'l bugger, that one. Never trust him with a keyboard…

So, characters—no matter how minor—eventually expand and become major characters. You make 'em, and then you want to keep them. You can't get rid of them so easily once they're made, so each character creation has to be taken with thoughtfulness and consideration. Otherwise, like a bunch of overgrown barnacles, they'll slow your progress down and eventually be a pain to scrape off.

And yet… you can't have a cohesive story without all the minor characters. Take… um… the old Legend of Zelda cartoons, for example. Probably few of us remember it, but there were no real minor repeating characters. There was Zelda, Link, Ganon, and the Fairy. No peasants to defend, no enemy generals, and no point to it except to keep the big G from getting the Triforce of Wisdom. I thought it was fun at the time, but then again… Super Mario Brothers was a pretty nifty new game back then, too.

All characters evolve if the writer's worth anything. Everybody learns, grows, and changes. The starting point will count for a lot, but it's what happens afterwards that determines what they become.

In the NETTG comic, we've already seen the introduction of several new characters—the elder Sailor Senshi and Captain Laios of the Royal Lunar Guard, to name a few. I have an idea of where they'll all end up, but I don't know what will happen in the meantime that will change them along the way. They could become important mainstay characters, or they could fade into the background and just sort of be there (anyone remember Morn from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine?).

Now that this article draws to a close, I realize that while I've said so much, I've really said so little. Minor characters are hideously important to creating a fun, believable storyline, but it is possible to get carried away with them. I'm still getting carried away with them, and I love it. There may be nothing at all wrong with overusing minor characters, since in the end, they become major characters worthy of their own spinoff. Look at what comics and fan fiction did for Bobba Fett and Wedge Antilles! Nothing really wrong with them—I'd even venture to say they got kind of carried away—BUT THEY'RE FUN, DON'T'CHA GET IT?!

Finally, minor characters are probably easier to get away with in a visual medium rather than in a written one. It's one thing to draw a character in the background all the time, but it's quite another to keep mentioning their presence in every other paragraph. Therefore, the NETTG comic will likely have many more original characters or extrapolations (I.E. parents of character "x") than in the fanfic. This is only natural and nothing to be ashamed of because, like manure, they'll lead to a richer, more fertile creative soil. And that's the way it goes, and we like it!

Now, as a bonus, here's some concept sketches of the page we were supposed to have done on Tuesday:

Keep at it! Success is inevitable if efforts do not cease.

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July 3, 2003: Storyboarding Madness


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