Walk-on Characters in Fiction – Good or Bad?

26/06/12 6:00 AM

One of my Granite Creek beta readers questioned my inclusion of two minor characters. These characters were essentially “walk-on characters,” meaning they appeared in one, and only one, scene. The beta reader didn’t feel it was right to introduce characters who had such a minor role.

I disagreed, and the characters stayed. (Note: I also questioned my other readers after hearing the comments from the first beta reader…none of the other readers agreed with the assessment, so I felt my decision was the right one.) My characters, though minor, were essential to the plot and provided context and even a little bit of intrigue. I liken it to the scene in Shakespeare in Love with Judi Dench. She had eight minutes of screen time, but eight crucial minutes, and eight minutes that she OWNED (and ultimately won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress). Yes, I realize Dench was playing a “known” character — Elizabeth I. However, I think the example still has legs.

What are your thoughts? If you’re a writer, do you ever include walk-on characters? Why or why not? Readers, do these sorts of one-off characters annoy you, or can they enrich the storytelling (when done right)? Share in the comments.

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Posted by Robyn | in Creative Writing | 2 Comments »

2 Comments on “Walk-on Characters in Fiction – Good or Bad?”

  1. Dina Santorelli Says:

    What an interesting question! I remember a year or so ago reading a thriller and being a little miffed (readers can be so touchy!) that a main character was introduced midway through a novel. I felt like I had already had a handle on things and then when New Person strolled in, it threw off my equilibrium. LOL! (I got over it.) But a peekaboo entrance from a minor character? Hmmm… I remember there was an episode once in the series LOST that was devoted to two characters who had never been introduced before and who ended up dying in that same episode. Fans went nuts. I can’t say I went nuts, but it did feel a bit like a waste of time, only because they were brought on so late in the series and didn’t seem to add anything to the overall plot. I guess, in the end, it depends on how those characters are handled by the author. Okay, now I REALLY can’t wait to read GRANITE CREEK! 🙂

  2. Robyn Says:

    I remember that episode of Lost! Ha! And yes — in THAT case, it seemed weird / out of context (that said, I didn’t go nuts either). My walk-ons aren’t as dramatic as that. Some might claim (rightfully so, perhaps) that I used them as a device. Yes, and no. I see these characters as part of the current story and future story…they could have had more “screen time” had I wanted to make the novel longer.

    I think walk-ons that are strictly serving as a way to move the story forward *could* be problematic because of the lack of dimensional development.

    It’s an interesting debate/issue. Thanks for commenting, Dina! (And I look forward to reading Baby Grand when it lands on Nook!)