Mysterious, Absent Characters


Anonymous asked: “How can I keep readers interested in a missing character with them being gone & only remembered?” 

A character doesn’t need to be present in a scene to be interesting. Sometimes they can be missing for most of the book (in some cases all of the book) and still hold the reader’s interest, just by being “relevant.” 

By relevant, I mean relevant to the story. The character should be related to the plot in some essential way and then they will be more than interesting. While there’s tons of examples in fiction, the ones that come to mind at the moment are in television. 

Let’s look at Pretty Little Liars – every viewer is asking, “who is A?” for how many seasons? But let’s go back to season 1 for a minute. A high school clique falls apart with the disappearance of their Queen Bee, Alison. Alison is found dead and her four former friends start receiving text messages from a mysterious “A” who appears to know secrets that each girl only confided in Alison. She might be dead, but she is interesting. She is an absent character who is creating plot. There are so many questions! But she doesn’t need to be a present character to be interesting. And this isn’t even the only example that comes to mind. 

Okay, so even if the character is not one of the main characters or directly creating all of the issues in the plot, they can still be relevant and interesting. A more subtle TV example would be from the Netflix TV series, Riverdale – I know, another teen drama example, I’ll explain it for those of you who haven’t watched the show. Riverdale is a new interpretation of the characters from Archie Comics. For all of season 1, Veronica Lodge’s father has been in prison. There’s a lot of rumor about him from the other characters. He might be evil, but really we don’t know a ton about what he’s actually done (or if we do, I’ve missed it). He strikes me as a New York mobster, though there’s no way to confirm that. He has been a constant suspect in the drama, believed to be hiring men from prison to cause destruction or fear throughout the show. He’s not present, but he’s still relevant. He’s still causing there to be issues and effecting the characters despite not being anywhere near them. He ends up being a bit of a minor evil in this show as far as big villains go, but relevant nonetheless. 

Similarly, let’s go back to a book example – Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban– what is Voldemort doing? I don’t know. Not much. But he’s a suspect. Sirius Black is on the loose and he’s believed to be Voldemort’s righthand man or whatever, but Voldemort’s nowhere to be seen. He’s still scary and looming because he’s created so much terror in every book before, but he’s not really all that active at this point. He’s still relevant. 

The point I’m getting at with these examples, even though the character is not present, they can still be interesting and relevant. They may not be seen for awhile, but they are doing things that have an effect on the characters. They are remembered because their actions have had repercussions. Now lastly, I know that all of the examples I picked are antagonists, but the rule applies across the board for less terrifying characters as well. As long as they’re looped into the plot in some way, they won’t be forgotten about. 

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