One thing I find very frustrating in fiction is the way that authors introduce minor characters. Often we are just given a name and a rather sketchy description of the character’s role. In the worse cases, six or seven individuals are presented at once, as little more than a list of names. Then, after a cursory mention on one page, these minor characters crop up thirty pages later, and we’re expected to remember who they are. Personally, I get very frustrated when a character is introduced and we don’t know what they look like, their age or their clothing. If a character deserves a name, then surely we need to know something more about them?
I always try to give some visual guide to a character, and here is a scene from my second Siskin and Valderan novel, where our heroes encounter a group of Becklingberg soldiers for the first time. This is from Rise of the Homrihans:
Brock shook hands without removing his gauntlets, and introduced his companions. One wore the uniform of the guards with a broad sash around his waist. His red hair had been curled into thickly-twisted locks that reached his chin. A dark paste had been painted around his eyes, in the style of a Becklingberger of yore. There were tattoos on the backs of his hands, showing a woman on the left and a fighting man on the right. He wore a long sword and carried a musket strapped over his back. Brock introduced him as Everard.
The other member of their party was a boy of sixteen or seventeen, tall, with blonde hair and blue eyes. His uniform was so bright and clean that it could have been made a week ago. Shaking their hands, he gave his name as Reynard. His grip was weak.
“Reynard, eh.” Said Siskin. “Isn’t this boy a bit young?”
“He’s a bit young for the evacuation,” said Brock. “He’s a bit young to face an invasion of his country. He’s a bit young to die. That’s just the way it is in these times.”
“Why is he coming with us? Why not another guardsman like Everard here? He seems the sort of man for the task.”
“Because Reynard was posted on the river fort. He knows it well. If any mischance should come to me, he can rig the defences as well as anyone. Also, he chose to come of his own free will. That means something.”
“I was no older than he when I began my peregrinations. My trials and tribulations,” said Valderan, kindly. He placed a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Your arms?”
“Here, sir,” said Reynard, presenting pistol and sword.
“Not ‘sir’, but ‘Valderan’. These weapons are in good shape. They look, er, as if they have never been used.”
“No, s–. They’re very new.”
“Well, then. It looks like Brock has been treating you well.”
A smile crossed Reynard’s face, but disappeared in an instant. He frowned.
“You’re of the guard, then? Everard.” Asked Siskin, turning to the other man.
“That’s right, a guardsman in the city watch, I am.”
“You ever see action before?”
“These are my men, Siskin. They don’t answer to you!”
“I’m asking anyway, Brock.”
“I have,” said Everard. He moved some strands of his hair back to show a scar on his temple.
“Taken a few hits then, I see?”
“I’ve fought and won a few battles, but you never get away all the time. I’ve slain homrihan too. Some by arrow, some by shot, and one even with the sword. No mean feat, as you would know, if you’ve ever seen one up close.”
“I’ve seen more homrihan than you’ve had bad dinners, Becklingberger.”
Both men smiled.
“Good,” said Everard. “Though I’m none too keen to see any more homrihans any time soon.”
Brock was now tapping his hand angrily against the hilt of his sword.
“And you gentlemen? Laghan, I need no answer for – but you? Are you willing to die for Becklingberg?”
“You don’t die for anything, Brock. You just die,” said Siskin.
“Actually, we’re planning on surviving,” added Valderan.
“Glad to hear it, gentlemen. Oh, hush. Lady Delydd and the countess are approaching.”