There’s always a main story in a book. Say, in the simplest form: girl meets boy, girl falls in love with boy, problems arise, problems are solved, girl marries boy. When that story first starts all you want, as a reader, is for said girl to end up with said boy. But that’s not what happens. At least, not immediately.
A story is not as straight as a highway where the road follows one straight and clear destination. A story is more like navigating through a suburb. One in which you don’t have a GPS, and where the roads all branch off one another. You eventually get to your endpoint, but the journey is not as easy as you start off thinking it will be.
You can’t tell a story without some extra fluff. You can’t leave out those side characters. They’re important to your story. Don’t add them in just to bulk up your novel. It’s not about the extra word count that they give you. It’s about the authenticity they give to your story. I didn’t just become a writer and designer. I studied journalism, I waitressed (badly), I worked in a bank, I moved to London, I travelled Europe, I moved back to South Africa, I started my own company, I failed, I succeeded, I cried, I laughed, I met friends, I lost friends, I did a million different things to get me where I am today. Those moments, the big ones and the small ones, are all an important part of the process to where I am today. They’re what make me who I am.
That novel you’re writing should reflect life – it’s not a straight line from A to B. It’s a squiggly line from A all the way to Z. And, most of the time, you never really get to Z. Not all the stuff in between is important, but a lot of it is. Don’t let those side characters or stories take over the main objective, but don’t neglect them either.
Fluff it up. Don’t stuff it up.