The Mystery Of The Amazing Disappearing Characters; or, She Was Here Just A Second Ago!

(Day 10 of Post-A-Day Challenge)


Anyone ever had a character (or several characters) disappear on them?

I have.  All the time.

The sad part is, most of the time I don’t even notice it until later.  I set up a scene where six characters enter a room…but only two of them end up having anything to say to one another.  The rest, apparently, all slink off to the hotel bar for a highball or something, because they just disappear from the scene.  Later on, one of them might pop in to say something pithy, but otherwise, they’re AWOL.

It’s especially bad when you have a character who is a bit reticent to start with.  If you don’t pay close attention to her, she’ll vanish faster than doughnuts in my office’s kitchen.

The problem is, having a character say something just so he or she can be present in the scene is problematic, too.  It can lead to stilted, awkward dialogue at best (and at worst, well, I’d just prefer not to think about it, thanks).

So what can you do to keep characters from disappearing?  Here are some tips I’ve discovered:

  1. Re-evaluate whether the “disappearing” characters really need to be in the scene to start with.  If the scene is really about a discussion between your main character and her mother, do dad and younger brother really need to be there, too?
  2. Transfer some dialogue from another character.  This can be especially helpful if you have a character who tends to steal scenes.  Take away a few of his lines and give them to someone else.  Just make sure to change the voice to match the new speaker!
  3. A character doesn’t have to speak to be part of the scene.  Have one of your vanishing characters stick around to pour the tea instead.  Give them little beats of body language or facial expression.  Have one of them raise an eyebrow at the preposterous claim your main character just made.  Perhaps the tired four-year-old crawls into Mommy’s lap to fall asleep, rather than dozing off on the chair across the room and disappearing from the scene.  There are lots of fun possibilities here!
  4. If your scene takes place somewhere where there are people moving around in the background — a busy street, the shopping mall, the hospital emergency room — give us a note or two to let us know that the folks in the background are still there.  Have the hard-boiled police detective pause to wonder why a mime just wandered past.  Have the young man in the corner of the Starbucks sneeze and receive a chorus of “bless you”s from everyone on that side of the room.  Describe how the teething baby’s wails echo sharply off of the roof of the train station, high overhead….  You get the idea.

What are some other tricks people have used to pull disappearing characters back into a scene?


About sheilamcclune

Aspiring author, sharing the tidbits I've learned along the way.
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