I'm wrestling with my WIP and realized I have a character who's important because of who she is (family member) but has no real wants/needs in the book. Is this a necessary ingredient, or can she earn her spot in the story if she's there as merely an enabler to the other characters? (and now you see why I've been absent from the comments of late!) Thanks... Susan Helene Gottfried http://westofmars.com
Actually, you probably want to limit the number of characters who have goals and journeys in the book. Yeah, yeah, we're all human, and we're all important, and we all have needs-- but think about real life. I have no doubt that bank teller has problems and goals and a whole life, but I just want her to give me money. She's got a role to play, and her goals and needs just aren't important to me. Sorry. (But if she were to burst into tears, I'd be drawn in and suddenly care. Fortunately, she just cashes my check.)
Who is your protagonist? Okay, now what is this person's relationship or role in relation to the protagonist? If all she does is enable, that's fine. It might be boring, it might not. But if she's distracting us from the protagonist because, I don't know, her newborn needs a donor heart, well, that's a problem. She's not a major character, right? She's there to further the plot in some way. She doesn't even have to be interesting, actually, if her role is limited. For example, say she's the sister-in-law who calls to tell Joe that his father has died, and there's going to be a dispute about the will because dad's trophy wife has vowed to get every penny. Maybe that's the end of her role-- just messenger. But maybe not. If she's married to Joe's brother, obviously she has an interest in the will too. If so, go with it. Is she greedy too? Or is she heartsick for her husband, who is going to lose so much? Or what?
That is, you don't have to invent goals and conflicts. The role will have them sort of pre-ordained for you. If you give a plausible sense of that, you don't really need (probably) this person to have purely personal (not connected with protagonist) goals. Or at least, you don't need to show them usually. So think about who this person is and what her role is. It's probably (in relation to pro) one of these:
1) A motivation (she's his grandmother and he owes her everything and all she wants before she dies is to see his college graduation)
2) A conflict (she's his ex-wife, and they still own a business together, and it's hard to operate a business when there's so much emotional tension)
3) A foil (she's his sister, and they're a lot alike, but she's gone the conventional route and we can see by looking at her how far he's strayed from his affluent roots).
Make sure that you can figure out the naturally occurring conflicts and goals that come with the role. Show that role in operation. That is, don't have her as some business rival (that is, with a built-in conflict) who generously shares with him the information he needs-- she should only do that if it furthers her role as rival somehow (like they form an alliance). IF there's more to it-- like she's fallen in love with him and is betraying her own interests for him-- then she's become more than a roleplayer and yeah, you might need to flesh out her part and make her a major character. If you don't want to do that, go back to the role, and think about what that is, and give her plausible goals and needs and conflicts -- but all within the story. Make her real, but don't make her important.