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Spare Characters

Characters are like children. Love them, be generous, indulgent and forgiving. - John Dufresne

I would like to add to that by saying characters should never be tossed aside. It is an amazing process, writing, at some point the story takes over and your characters surprise you and the plot changes and you, the author, can’t wait to see what happens.

I saw a meme on Facebook that J. K. Rowlings had once said that Harry (Potter) and Hermione should have ended up together and someone commented, ‘well didn’t you write the damn book?’ I get that. Sometimes our original ideas just don’t work the way we imagined. So what does this have to do with spare characters? Everything.

When the book begins to write itself, a new character may emerge but as much as you try, it's just not working. Don’t toss her aside. Start a file of characters. Write down what you know about her, what her purpose is and tuck her safely aside. In a sequel or new book, this character may just be your protagonist or antagonist. Pull her file and she’s ready to go to work. Don’t rely on memory because while you may remember obvious details about her, the minut ones are long gone. And then you waste countless hours trying to bring her back to life.

Another reason why saving spare characters is beneficial is up the road a bit in your work, this character just may need a quick sentence or say important facts. Even “in and out” characters can enrich your story. However, if you dismissed that character once he or she popped into your head, again, it is lost when you try to retrieve that information.

It doesn’t take away from what you are doing by quickly jotting down character name, features and why this character may be important.

If you write in a particular genre (I write historical fiction) and a character jumps into your head that just does not fit your story’s genre, write it down anyway. I have a modern day African-American detective who has been on the force for twenty years and is stumped by a case. What case? I don’t know. He is married and his wife helps him sort out clues. She affectionately calls him her black Colombo because her husband keeps saying, “one more thing.” I like him. I like them. They are a loving, supportive, funny couple. I write 19th century murder mysteries. He certainly doesn’t fit but I’m not throwing him away. While I currently do not have any plans to write time travel stories, I may find a place for him someday OR maybe another writer could use a great detective. I may share. I may not. They are my children.


Next week: The dreaded RED pen

Until next time…


Work Cited:

Dufresne, John, The Lie That Tells The Truth, A Guide to Writing Fiction, W. W. Norton & Company, New York, 2003 p 170




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