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Walk-on Characters in Fiction – Good or Bad?

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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