Walk on, walk off …

So, you’re writing your novel and of course it’s right and proper that you should spend time making sure your characters come to life – especially the main characters of protagonist and, if appropriate, antagonist.

If the characters don’t come to life your readers will be unable to relate to and engage fully with the novel.

Hang on, you say. I’ve done that. I can even tell you what my characters ate for breakfast in 1976!

Well, that’s great, but have you paid any attention to that much neglected and little considered species, the walk-on, walk-off character?

Shakespeare was good at these. In the middle of some terrible, agonising situation someone would appear briefly to make some witty or pithy remark before disappearing into the wings, never to be seen again. Sometimes they have no name, but are simply referred to as ‘Servant’ or ‘Messenger’. They would provide comic relief or, more seriously, act as a catalyst to propel the story forward or perhaps nudge it in a new and completely unexpected direction.

I’m a great fan of this type of character, both in my own writing and in the novels and plays of others.

And they’re brilliant fun to invent. You feel a bit like a chef mulling over which spice will be the perfect complement to le repas du jour.

While we’re on the catering theme (!), one of my favourite characters in ‘The Trespass’ is Pam Dellow, proprietress of  Devon-based sandwich company ‘Dellow’s Delicious Deli’. The protagonist, Simon Dracup, is forcibly taken to an US air base where he eventually boards a plane bound for Iraq.

I needed a way for Dracup to get vital information to his only potential ally, DCI Brendan Moran, before he got on that plane.

Pam Dellow appeared in my head straight away, with her little white van and middle-aged fantasies about handsome men sweeping her off her feet and spiriting her away from delivery drudgery to a new life.

She was perfect, a little light relief and an important conduit for the next stage of the plot.


Cardinal Vagnoli plays a similar but subtly different role in ‘Black December’. He is a visitor to the abbey and, although he flits elusively in and out of the narrative, he seems to intuitively understand DCI Moran’s deepest thoughts. Instinct or something more sinister? Is he a suspect? Or merely a commenting observer of events?

So, add a little spice to your narrative and introduce a walk-on, walk-off character to your WIP.

You may be pleasantly surprised where your newcomer takes you . . .

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