In my wip (that’s work-in-progress to non-writers) I need a character to introduce Elle to the spaceship, another to figure out that she’s a stow-away and still another to give her fake papers so she’ll appear to be legitimate. That’s three characters who aren’t essential to the story and all must appear in the first two chapters.
There are two ways to handle such a situation. The first involves creating what some writers call throw-away characters, those people who appear briefly in a story and then disappear, never to be seen again. It’s fun to create such characters and describe them in a sentence or two that implants them so firmly in the readers’ minds that they stay there forever. But too many minor characters can clutter up a story.
So I chose the second way. I simplified and combined. I created one single character who will be semi-important to the story and who does all three jobs. He meets Elle as they board the spaceship, he finds her living hand-to-mouth and he makes fake papers for her. And since he’s also the father of a small girl who helps Ells survive and since he’s also the Mayor of the village she lives near, he’s available to accomplish all sorts of other things in the story that I haven’t yet figured out I’ll need done. And he’s just one character.
A simple story will be remembered long after a complex one has been long forgotten and one character who becomes part of the story will be fuller and more rounded than several throw-away characters, no matter how well they have been described.
The decision as to which way to go is up to the writer. Long stories usually need simplification because they are complex enough without adding to the mix. Shorter stories often benefit from one or two well-defiined throw-away characters.