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My story has several occasions where the two main protagonists interact with background characters. I'd rather not make a different background character for each one, as each needs a decent amount of character building. Would it be too repetitive to include the same background character in each scene, with exceptions?

Could I somehow put a funny run-in twist on these meet-ups or is it too coincidental? On a side note, a lot of these interactions are in places far away from each other.

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    That sounds like something out of a game, rather than a written story. What medium are we talking about?
    – Divizna
    Commented Dec 22, 2022 at 22:19
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    If these characters are interacting with the protagonists and require "a decent amount of character building", then they're not background characters.
    – F1Krazy
    Commented Dec 22, 2022 at 22:53

2 Answers 2

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Minimizing support characters is an excellent strategy.

Whether your background characters can be reduced to just one specific character depends on whether it would negatively strain the credulity of the reader. If there is a rational reason why this one individual would be the go-to character for all your protagonist's needs, then it would be fine. Like if your characters are in prison, and they interact with the same guard all the time, that would make sense in that situation.

But, if your protagonists are wandering a big city or a wilderness, and keep encountering the same person out of the blue, then the reader might start thinking this background character is something other than what they seem. That might work for your story or it might mess it up. If the reader is making connections -- real or not -- that the main characters aren't making, it can cause a sense of distrust in the narrative that undermines the immersive element of the story.

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There are two main things to consider:

Whether this background character will work, or can plausibly work, in both situations. This is not only whether they could physically be present, but also whether the background would work better if they are different.

Whether this will lay undue emphasis on this character. Given that you are making this character fairly complex, readers will expect something significant, and quite possibly to know this character's fate at the story's end. Having this character appear twice would draw even more attention and more expectations. You may even turn this character into a major one and have to deal with that.

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