“Hello, I’m John Smith.” “John Smith 1882?” “My Mistake.”

John SmithIf you recognise the quote then you’ve watched too much Simpsons. Two Zombies trying to climb back into the same grave, both of them named John Smith, but one is Pocahonta’s friend, the other is the Last Man Standing in a drug cartel war.

Why would I start tonight’s post with something so ludicrous?

Come now, you should have figured me out by now. I’m not quite firing on all cylinders, am I?

Actually, the reason is because of minor characters and their place in novels.

Every character in a novel must have a purpose. A reason for being on the page and taking up word count. Are they working against the hero? Are they the sidekick? Are they the pain in the arse sub plot that distracts the hero from their true path?

These are all pretty valid reasons for a character to be hanging around. But are they enough?

Maybe . . .Maybe not. So what do you do if the answer is no?

An Example

Let’s look at another example, an example from ‘And Here The Wheel’:

I have a character, a guy dressed in black, a trenchcoat which stretches from above his ears to along the ground. It’s big, its loose, and its good for hiding that big-ass Scatter Gun you have hidden on your person.

What is the purpose of this man? To add suspense to the story.

That’s it. He is never seen again.

I guess that’s ok. Its functional, it gets the job done, suspense is added and yet it just doesn’t feel like enough. It’s like an opportunity wasted. Worse, the reader could expect to see this man again, not see him and get confused or disappointed. Both of those things are what we call in this trade ‘BAD THINGS’.

The Solution?

To answer that, let me take a side step. Something I was taught by the underrated David Wolverton was that a scene can’t just do one thing, like introduce a character, elevate the tension, provide comic relief, etc. It must do two things. Or three things. Or four if you can make it. The scene must be as efficient as possible until it runs like a Formula 1 car, using every last ounce of fuel so the fumes coming out the back are so clean and so well used that its just CO2 and water vapour. (Though for the record I am a massive V8 Supercar fan, where the exhaust is somewhat different)

I believe characters should be the same.

So I thought to myself. “I have a whole bunch of people in my novel. Why not combine them? Get another character to fulfill the function of this trenchcoat guy.” By forcing myself to do this I came up with a solution that made the story more interwined, introduced one set of bad guys a bit earlier than previously (something I mentioned was needed in my last update) and gives a peek into the mindset of this character. Now this character has taken on another role, making him that much more useful, and the other character, the one who only had one use, is gone.

Efficiency up. Novel better. All in all a good days work.

What do you think? Do you have any characters that might need a second purpose? Or can you toss them in the bin and get another character to do their work for them? What plot options will this open up for you?

Editing Progress

Ok, well I have officially started ‘Editing Round Number 2’ where I take the advice and spelling corrections from the Alpha Readers and tune the novel up to the next level. So here is this weeks progress meter:

Progress Meter


Page 129/ 601 (21.4%)


What’s with the 601 pages you ask? Well I have converted the novel to Courier Font, Size 12, double spaced with one inch margins, aka ‘Standard Manuscript Format’. This is how you would submit a novel to a publisher for them to review.

Why have I done this? Well keep reading . . .

Huge, Massive, Ginormous News of the Week
. . .Because this week I officially signed up with Fantastic Books Publishing. I signed the contract last night and I am joining Drew Wagar as one of their authors.

This is amazing news for me, something I have been dreaming of since I stood up in front of school assembly as a five year old and read out my version of the movie ‘Short Circuit’. This is a big moment and I’m incredibly thankful to Dan Grubb for taking me on board. I’ve been in talks with Dan for a while now and his company is the perfect fit for me. I’m really excited about what this means for my novel and I’m even more excited than ever about March 2014!

At this very moment Dan is running a crowd funding campaign to create audiobooks in a new department of Fantastic Books, ‘Fantastic Audio’. I think it can only be a good thing if my publisher wants to make audiobooks, something I’m pretty damn passionate about as well. So if you have a moment please roll on over to http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/fantastic-books-audio/x/1801378 and see if you can support them. They are offering some great pledge rewards, like Kindle Fires fully loaded with their entire webstore, professional cover design, editing services and writing workshops. Definitely worth a look if you like books and writing!

Commander’s Log Podcast
Commander's Log Cover art

Well if you have listened to Episode 10A you’ll know that I ended on a cliff hangar of sorts. I stumbled into Drew and then faded to black . . .That’s because Drew was finishing off his novel draft and I wanted to save our chat until after he had finished. Now he has finished so the conclusion of episode 10A shouldn’t be too far away.

If you haven’t listened yet I’ve included the link below.

Episode 10A “Tianve Terrors”


Well it’s been a big week. Thanks for stopping by. If you found this post interesting or the writing advice useful, please share it with your friends.




7 responses to ““Hello, I’m John Smith.” “John Smith 1882?” “My Mistake.”

  1. Actually, I must voice my disappointment over what you did to Trenchcoat Guy. For me he was one of the highlights in the novel! It’s like he walked straight out of a Sergio Leone film and then walked straight back. And I loved it.

    I loved him precisely because I know nothing about him and he’s never explained. He’s not relevant to the story. And yet, the brief encounter with him oozes suspense and character. In fact I’d argue he already served a double function – not just adding suspense to the scene, but in adding character to the depiction of the universe itself. He’s part of the surroundings. He embodies what makes that planet special and interesting as a place. Not everyone out there revolves around the main protagonists! Not everyone is out to get them! Not everyone is connected, or cares. Some people just happen to look threatening by their nature. [i]Dangerous[/i].

    I felt the story could have even used more “pointless” red herring characters like him just to highlight the fact that the world of Elite is huge and uncaring. Some bits about the plot seem to fall into place too conveniently already.

    I feel if you combine his function with another, more “important” character it would just flatten things and make the world seem smaller, and less rich as consequence.

    Great news about the publishing deal, though! Congratulations! So I take this to mean we’ll now get an actual, physical book to read? With real paper and cover art and everything?

    • Hi Captain N,

      Thanks for your comment. Yes, it is all a bit sergio leoneish isn’t it? He is pretty cool in that regard.

      Well, I’ll put it out the for the beta readers and see what comes back,

      Fantastic Books will publish as an ebook first, but if they sell 8000 copies then they’ll do a paperback production run. So spread the word and make sure we get 8001 sold minimum πŸ™‚

  2. Hi John,

    An interesting post about minor characters. You make some good points, and wrapping multiple ‘roles’ of several lesser characters into a single persona can tighten a novel considerably and improve the sense of continuity. As Captain N notes above though, the ‘function’ of minor characters in a novel can be more diverse, whether it’s to personify a wider universe or the local flavour of a scene, provide a link to another plot arc, or provide a character motivation in-scene, minor characters a useful omni-tool in the writer’s kit. As you note, knowing what each one is for is the first step into working out what to do with them: editor’s chopping block, or a promotion to reader-emotional-investment level.

    Congrats on securing the book publication deal. It’s great your book’s found a good home.

    • Thanks T.J, your thoughts always appreciated. I’m really lucky in that I have alpha and beta readers to comment and a publisher with their own readers. I’m sure between all of us the right decision will be made in the end.

  3. Pingback: Kill Your Darlings | And Here The Wheel

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