This is a question I ask myself quite often. As a pantser, I tend to introduce characters as I write along in the story.
Sometimes they ‘re minor characters who are only in for one scene to provide info, add some comic relief, or increase tension and conflict. Or a combination of the three. They make their appearance and they’re gone.
Then there are those characters who stick around even when they’re not supposed to. One such for me is the Mayor of Riverbend. In my original plan he was to pop into the story occasionally, primarily as a foil to Sheriff Caleb Davis and to provide some comedy.
He was short and wide with the name of Malcolm Meriweather. His wife was equally as wide. People didn’t step into the street when they passed as a sign of respect. There was no room on the sidewalk.
Meriweather filled his role admirably. But then he began to expand his presence in the book. And when you’re as big as Jackie Gleason, your presence is already pretty expansive.
By this time, I had learned to give my characters freedom from their character sketches. So I let him go to see what would happen. Besides being an irritant to the sheriff, he was an antagonist to my heroine, Rachel Stone. He knew she was once a prostitute and he made advances toward her, looking to take liberties.
As the Riverbend Sagas grew into three books, his role became larger (no pun intended). By the third book, he’d progressed from minor character in Book 1, to an irritating major secondary character in Book 2, to a villain and antagonist opposing my hero, Michael Archer.
Throughout the series, I enjoyed writing him as he grew from comic relief to a major villain. He revealed depths of desire I hadn’t expected. Letting him go to be who he was enhanced the series as he took on a larger and meatier presence.
Readers have asked if there will be a fourth Riverbend Sagas book. I think Michael’s and Rachel’s stories are complete right now. Although Rachel reminds me I did leave her pregnant at the end of book 3. I suspect if there is a book 4, Riverbend’s mayor will have a significant part.
Question for writers: How do you handle a character who wants to take on a bigger role in your story?
Question for readers: What do you think when a character starts out one way in a story and then grows into someone different and more important?