Skip to content

Reflections of a working writer and reader



Learning to Write XXXI

How do you weed out characters that aren’t earning their keep?

A character doesn’t earn his or her keep when they do nothing interesting with or in opposition to the leading characters in your narrative. If they are your leading characters you need to stop writing and return to the stage of thinking about your novel. At some point in the future you will have to start again.

Usually, the subsidiary characters who aren’t making the grade fail in the ‘memorability test’. You don’t remember their names immediately, or when you come across their names you have to stop and think where you met them last. They are one-dimensional; in their company you are a little edgy on their behalf, wishing they would display one or two contradictions or character flaws.

If one of these characters has a secret, you know it won’t be worth much and you hope they manage to keep it under wraps. They probably will, too; because wall-flowers don’t have much to say for themselves.

Dull people in life may pay off after a while. Sometimes you have to be patient for a long time, waiting for them to prove you right. In fiction they never will. If they bore you, don’t inflict them on your readers. Write them out.

One Response to “Learning to Write XXXI”

  1. Thomas McCay says:

    I recently had a very bitter experience with the subject of this post. When I doggedly finished my first detective novel I found that the lead character was the least interesting character in the book. I didn’t actually care what happened to him. The villains and the side kicks were much more interesting than the main character. I and my couple of readers cared more about the hero’s driver than we did about the bloody ‘hero’.

    I fear I kilt my baby and buried it in a deep dark drawer. I did not make the same mistake with my second baby. Many new mistakes but not that particular one. Characters must pay their way and they must have a solid reason for hanging on as more than ‘background performers’.

    New Reader, love this blog thanks.

    jb says: Hi Thomas, thanks for the contribution. It’s true that there’s no better teacher than experience, though he can be a very hard master sometimes.