characters / writers tips

Writer’s Tip #32: Think of a Walk-on Character as a Hole in the Wall

When you read your story, does it sound off, maybe you can’t quite put your finger on it, but you know you’ve done something wrong? Sometimes–maybe even lots of times–there are simple fixes. These writer’s tips will come at you once a week, giving you plenty of time to go through your story and make the adjustments.

Today’s tip: the Walk-on character.

You know, the one who enters the story as a cameo–in the background like furniture. You notice him/her as part of a particular scene but with no particular purpose. I’m talking about the waiter, the doorman, the bank teller–the supporting actors who move your main characters forward.

Don’t describe them unless it adds to the setting or the plot. Here’s what I mean. You may describe the tight low-cut t-shirt of the Hooter’s waitress, but no need to discuss her sparkling blue eyes or her single-mom status unless she’ll be part of the plot. Don’t confuse your readers. Don’t get them vested in a character or trying to remember details that won’t add to the storytelling experience.

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Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing TeachersCisco guest blogger, Technology in Education featured blogger, and IMS tech expert. She is  the editor of a K-6 technology curriculumK-8 keyboard curriculumK-6 Digital Citizenship curriculum, creator of technology training books for middle school and ebooks on technology in education. Currently, she’s editing a thriller that should be out to publishers next summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

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6 thoughts on “Writer’s Tip #32: Think of a Walk-on Character as a Hole in the Wall

  1. I need to heed this advice more carefully in my own writing. This is especially important to remember when your book has a large cast of characters, the plot is complex, or there are technical or historical details to remember. One thing I try to do is hang a unique trait onto a walk-on if they’re going to walk once more in a later chapter. Not a name, but something like: a pointed red goatee; fingers always wiggling; the low cut tee shirt that you mentioned. That’s enough to jar a reader’s memory but doesn’t demand much attention.
    We’ll miss you tonight. I’ll save you a tangerine. *: )

  2. This is so true, Jacqui. If I read a story and a character is introduced (in detail) I expect to see that character reappear later in the story and if they don’t it can be very confusing! ;)

  3. Hi Jacqui,
    what you have told is altogether a new idea and a new point of view..hatsoff
    .
    however i wanted to say this..in certain plots to keep the audience guessing or to surprise them authors may involve few extra characters…they may not be related much to the story but still describing them in a different tone may engage the audience :-)

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