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Between the pages, Past
A Mystery Column
By Dennis Collins

The Supporting Cast

Every story needs at least one main character and most have at least three or four. They’re the characters who carry the plot and tell the tale. But they need help just like movie stars need supporting actors to make things work. Sometimes it can be these overlooked characters who give the story its flesh and color. Some of these people might even be good enough to be recycled.

In about a month I’ll be participating in a writer’s conference and one of the panels that I’ve asked to be included in is titled, Spear Carriers: The Characters Other Than the Protagonist. It sounds like a fascinating subject that is hardly ever explored.

When writing my novels I usually have to decide which characters are disposable and which ones might be invited back in a future episode. After all, I write murder mysteries and have to be careful about who I bump off. In The Unreal McCoy, my first book I didn’t even think about return engagements. Some of the folks were likeable but not necessarily compelling enough for an encore performance.

By the time I got to my second book I was looking for people who might just be interesting enough to invite back. There are actually three characters in Turn Left at September who I would consider including in forthcoming novels. The first one, Gregory Price, a crime-beat newspaper reporter has already made an appearance in my third, yet to be published book. I also gave Albert McCoy, one of my main guys a love interest named Ruby. She wasn’t originally intended to be an ongoing part of the group but I kinda like her. She’s a strong, good-hearted woman and is absolutely wild about McCoy. I’ll find some room for her in the future. That brings me to “Harley Charlie,” a northern Michigan Chippewa with a passion for Harleys. He’s the prototypical sidekick type that every hero depends on. I tried to make him bright and stable, the pillar of strength that gives the reader a sense of comfort just knowing he’s around.

Realistically I have to limit the number of characters who get a lot of “camera” time because, as a reviewer I know how confusing and annoying it can be to try to keep track of a cast of thousands. Hopefully I’ll be able to feature my main characters and simply flavor but not overwhelm the stew with interesting and intriguing contributors. If I get it wrong, I’m sure I’ll hear about it.

2007 Past Columns

Interview with Mark Terry (most likely to Succeed)

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