Disposable Characters

After noticing Colin Harrison’s long paragraphs in You Belong To Me, I was also struck by how he used characters who had a walk-on, walk-off role.

The plot of his thriller involved a couple of baddies and one good guy being killed in two separate incidents. Their bodies were accidentally discovered, having been disposed of in remote locations. The people who found them were given separate chapters, rather than a few paragraphs. Admittedly, the chapters were short at three pages, but the characterisation was so strong that they were more compelling than the protagonists.

One was a pest destroyer, specialising in the most extreme infestations of rats, which led to some stomach-churning details of how rats flourish. The other disposable character was a commercial orchard owner, who’d lost her nose to cancer as a result of the pesticides she was forced to use, meaning she wore a plastic prosthesis when in public. Sadly, these two never appeared again after they’d told the police about the corpses. They were only passing through, but they made an impact.

My crime novels are 80,000 words long, featuring about a dozen coppers and villains, with several recurring characters, such as pub landlords, newspaper reporters, a coroner and police informants. I regularly devote entire chapters to the thoughts of my hero detective or his villainous antagonist but haven’t up to now concentrated on the life of a minor player. I may give it a try!

Describing the jobs that folk do, and the landscape they work in is a great way of rounding out a story and giving it context.

How do you deal with supporting characters in your stories?

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