15 April 2016

Madison, or, The Magically Appearing Minor Character!

**My theme for this year's A to Z Challenge is THE REVISION PROJECT. Topics I come across while I write the third draft of my novel, Uneven Lines.**

There were plenty of things I could have said. No thanks, I like boys. Sorry, I’m just afraid that you’re diseased. No, really, I’m flattered, you’re just really annoying. What came out of my mouth was, “Fine. Come on.” She grinned as I took her hand. 

Sometimes you have characters who cause trouble. Wait, haven't I written about this before? I guess all of my characters cause trouble. But sometimes you come up with a character who didn't even seem necessary to the story, just shows up in the middle, throws everyone off, then walks away. And the mess they leave shouldn't work, but it does, and you're the one picking up all the pieces.

I can't even think of an accurate name for this type of character, so for now we'll call her Madison. Well, because that's her name in UL. But I'm sure a lot of you have had a Madison every now and then. The issue is whether or not she's even necessary, and if she is, is there a way to make her more prominent in the story?

Let me break this down without being too spoilerific (I hope). Madison doesn't show up in UL until Chapter 17. There has never been any mention of her whatsoever. Jordan goes to his friend Brian's birthday party and she just happens to be there. Seems ok, right? But the thing about Madison is that she's tied to things that happened long before the story even began. Madison is best friends with Kristen, who just so happens to be the last girl Jordan went out with before deciding to end all that nonsense. Now, Madison and Kristen are the biggest frenemies you've ever known. So a just about perfect way of hurting Kristen would be to hook up with the guy that dumped her and left her a little obsessed.

I know what you're going to say. "Uh, Sarah...don't know if you knew this, but...Jordan is gay." Shhhhhhh. Teenagers can get it up for pretty much anything and it works in the scene, trust me! That's not the point! Because he doesn't go through with it, obviously, and not just because she's a girl. Because he has feelings for someone else. Which leads to an entire other fiasco but that will come up in a later post. But without his interaction with Madison, certain things that happen in the main plot never would have happened at all.

Also, the whole Madison thing fuels the subplot on a huge level. Brian gets really pissed at Jordan for the whole mess, Jordan decides he needs to pretty much destroy Brian's life, blah blah blah. So she has a purpose. The thing I worry about is the fact that she just shows up out of nowhere, messes everything up, and then disappears. Is that a weird thing to do? Will the reader be thinking, "who the hell is this chick?"

I'm trying to work her in more and more in the third draft. She's lurking in the first chapter when we catch Kristen staring at Jordan, and then she whispers to the girl sitting next to her. Madison also happens to be the girl Eric has had a crush on the whole time even though he doesn't tell anyone until after all the nonsense happens. And I think she can show up again later on as Jordan is scheming against Brian. He sees her as someone who could help because she's just as sneaky and crafty as him.

So is it ok if characters just show up out of nowhere? Or is it better to subtly weave them throughout the story so that they don't shock the reader and throw things off?

Do you have your own version of a Madison? Do you think characters can just show up and never be seen again?


  1. I have a character in my current WIP who shows up in chapter 29 and then disappears again by chapter 32. He was supposed to be a minor, minor character who died, but now he's getting a role in book three, and his own spin-off series later on down the road. So, I ended up going back to make sure he was at least mentioned in a few earlier scenes so his appearance wasn't totally out of the blue.

    That said, I think if you can find a way to subtly weave her in a few places earlier in the story then that would probably be good. Especially if she's fueling a subplot.

  2. I do have a Madison character. She is not mentioned by name, just that one of the characters has this older sister, who by the way, is totally evil. Then the MC travels out of town, meets her, and discovers, oh no, this is the big, bad sister! It's a great moment and I'd hate to cut it, because this evil lady's actions bring back memories from the MC's past that are huge.

    Weaving your Madison into earlier chapters is a great idea. Then it won't seem as abrupt when she does show up.

  3. I guess the answer depends on the purpose of the character. A cameo appearance would be okay if the character was there to assist or hinder a main character, but had no integral part in the story.

  4. I do have a few Madison characters. But I feel like characters should have an explanation as to why they left.


  5. The best way to figure out if a character is useless (if he/she should be deleted or not) is if he/she has a purpose. If Madison has a purpose...to mess things up...then she's a keeper. But you could try to have her stick around to watch how things gets messed up. Just pop her into those scenes whenever you can. :)

  6. A character showing up and leaving happens all the times in stories. They just have to have a good reason to interact with the main characters.

  7. I think if a character shows up, she must have a reason for being there. It's possible you might mention her, just off hand somewhere earlier, then when she enters the story, the reader will say Oh, so that's who she is, or something like that.

  8. Sometimes characters only matter to one small part of the book. I wouldn't stress it too much. If she doesn't fit naturally into the rest of the story, you shouldn't try to shoe-horn her in.

    @mirymom1 from
    Balancing Act

  9. My early drafts of Being Human had a character that only showed up at the end and caused all sorts of trouble. The recommended fix I got was to work that trouble maker in so it wouldn't be so sudden. If that's what you're doing here, you should be fine. Just make sure to mention her name so readers know who she is early on in the story and then when she becomes important they remember her.