Friday, February 22, 2013

Chronicles of my First Draft Part I: Throwaway Characters

I guess now that I’ve confessed the big “W” (meaning I write books) to you all, I should feel a little more comfortable to tell you a little bit about the process.

I am just finishing my first draft of my very first completed novel ever. I have written for years; but never actually finished a novel.  Well, I’m finishing it now( probably this weekend at that).

My writing is very much informed by my own creativity, yes, but also by the excessive amount of reading I do and have done my entire life.  I like to write in the way that I like to read. Meaning, some of the devices that I see that I like I try to weave into my story. Things that drive me nuts ---my literary pet peeves, per se--- I like to try and avoid.

This led me to pondering today about Throwaway Characters.   Throwaway Characters, as defined by Rachel, are those characters  you introduce in quantifiable periphery for the express purpose of moving a central plot point forward.  No one is going to dwell on and savour them, their words will not loll on your tongue after bouts of fascinating dialogue, they will not be well-drawn or developed, they are cameos.  They are the Steve Buscemi role before he got big on Boardwalk Empire.

The problem with Throwaway Characters is knowing how to balance them so that the reader doesn’t meet them mid-way and go “where the heck did this person come from?”

gratuitous fonzie photo c/o

My story is set during the months preceding , during, after and the general aftermath and reconstruction of the Halifax, Nova Scotia Explosion of 1917.   My lovely hero meets a young man named Tip (Hi! Hi Little Dorrit! I needed a throwaway name to go with my throwaway character) at a very integral part of the story only because I needed a lucid and languid bridge from point A to point B.  But now that I have quickly drafted Tip, I want to ensure that he is cleverly sewn into the seams of the story and is not just a bolting, jolting transition that forces the reader to get whiplash (he comes and goes and goes and comes ) or invest in someone they need not invest in. Emotionally. At all. ( Sorry Tip. I don’t care about you. You are a plot point).

Now, in television, throwaway characters often become breakout characters---the Arthur Fonzarellis, for example.  There is no way that Tip is going to be Fonzie: I am in control and that is not in his master plan.  But, I am thinking of times in the past when maybe I have fallen deeply for a throwaway character and then been SUPER bummed that they didn’t get more page time.

So, as readers and writers, how do you make sure that  your throwaway characters receive the amount of investment they need? Enough for you to go from plot point A à B with very little harm done?


Unknown said...

Hey Rachel--yay, fun to stop by your blog and talk about writing! :) First of all, congrats on finishing your first novel. That is a HUGE accomplishment.

There's a "throwaway character" in my first book. I needed him to help soften my main character. He's almost a fatherly figure and he only shows up in a few scenes. My editor was concerned that by his last appearance in the book, people would forget who he was. So I went back and gave him an extra cameo or two...made sure when he does appear it's very clear who he is and why he's in the scene. Going through that process was a great reminder to me that it can be jarring for a character to pop in and out of a story too rarely or too quickly...

Fun topic!

Rachel said...

yay! you're hanging out on my bloggy turf! i'm pretty sure Tip is someone an editor will question me about so i am making sure i use him sparingly yet wisely. :)

Christmas with CWG said...

I think it's a compliment to a character to have the reader want more of a character! The key, for me, is to make sure they are very present and purposeful in the scenes where they appear. Like, they have a job or a function--especially if they're going to be a one-scene wonder. If they're going to be in multiple scenes, I like to go for a general beginning, middle, end-type thing.

Rachel said...

You know what Allison? you're the best!

Lori Smith said...

I know nothing about throwaway characters, but i'm so thrilled you're about to finish the book! and I love the name Tip. ;-)

ducKy Boyd said...

Too late. I'm heavily invested in Tip now. I'm in love with him. I will now proceed to write fan fiction about Tip and wish he would get his own book (series).

Rachel said...

oh DuckyBoyd you are SUCH a liar. you aren't invested in Tip at all :D