One of my secondary characters is going to play an important part, more important than at present, in the story.

Is it OK to introduce him, make the reader love him, and then leave him behind til a much later appearance? Just sort of drop him off the plot and leave him simmering?

The character plays an important role at the beginning of the story and even if he has responsibilities and a plan of his own, is willing to sacrifice those plans to save the heroes. He ends up not having to sacrifice much, and is still able, while helping the heroes, to go do his thing.

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    Is there any unresolved business regarding this simmering character? If not, you are totally free. Just keep in mind that readers may be more forgetful about characters that authors would like them to be.
    – Alexander
    Oct 19, 2017 at 23:18

5 Answers 5


I've read a lot of novels were a very likeable character is introduced just to vanish and reappear at another time. It's pretty normal; after all, you have to tell a story, and in most stories, not everyone is present anytime.

In the Fellowship of the ring, for istance, Gandalf is away for quite some time. He has other business. Funnily enough, Tolkien did this in the hobbit too. Same things happens - maybe even more - in the Harry Potter's series. Dumbledore, for instance, is introduced in the very first chapters but seldomly appears until he takes a major role at the end of the series.

The critical part of your question, imho, is "making the reader love someone". You don't really control that. You may make a character likeable for a way or another, but different readers will have different favorites depending on personal taste. Also, the first appearance should be reasonably long, or else your audience won't probably remember the character existed in the first place (i'm exagerating, of course).

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    +1 just for your first paragraph....the Count of Monte Cristo immediately comes to mind as the central antagonists are introduced in the first few chapters and then left undisturbed and unaccounted for, for a considerable time while Edmond is imprisoned and later, when he's with the pirates. We don't see them return to the story until some time later, when he injects himself back into society life.
    – elrobis
    Oct 20, 2017 at 19:02

If the readers already love him, it will be important to have a plausible reason for why he's not around at the moment (Law shows set in New York seem to have the meme that someone is "in London" - a trick they apply with varying levels of plausibility). Other characters might mention his absence, and when he comes back, readers will also want to know what he's been doing.

It's OK. (With the usual Writers caveat of If It's Done Well).


It's fine to introduce characters, but not use them right away. However, you'll have to be really careful with it. The more detailed your description of the character, the more the readers will expect for him/her to have a bigger role in your story. Giving detailed descriptions to characters who don't do anything can peeve your readers in the long-run. They may have been expecting that character to do something significant, and then may be really confused and disappointed when the character doesn't amount to anything by the time they've read the whole book.

Also, be sure to have a good amount of length to your character's first appearance, or people might forget about him after a while. If this is your intention, I suppose it's a good thing, but it will most likely just cause confusion. If readers have forgotten about the character, they will be expecting a description for when he pops up next, and be really puzzled when they can't find any. They'll wonder, "Who the hell is this person now? Where did they come from? Was I supposed to remember them from before?"


It can be done. If I were doing this, I'd use a character with some skill set that doesn't apply for most of the book; my break-in specialist, the dragon tamer, the assassin, a pilot, etc.

So it makes sense when they appear first, and second, and why they are gone and what they are doing when off screen. For example the pilot flies my characters to their destination, then shows up at the end piloting the helicopter that saves them.

It would help if it is possible for the other characters to mention this person a few times in the book, to remind readers of their presence in the world.

You say they will play an important part later: Be wary, you don't want your plot to be apparently resolved by a deus ex machina bookended-in character, it should be resolved by the main character's ingenuity, courage, insight and sacrifice.

If your fun character is really the swashbuckling hero of the story, I would find that unsatisfying; a hero that appears in the first 50 pages, disappears, and shows up again in the last 50 pages for the final battles.

  • He plays an important part in allowing the heros to play their part. Things won't work without him because he's sort of the inside-man Oct 20, 2017 at 12:18
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    An enabler sounds fine to me; as long as the heroes do all the hard work of striking the final blow to defeat the villain or solve the problem. It won't work if the "inside man" kills the king and that was the whole point of the story! But an enabler that IS an inside man lets you add some intrigue; he may be lovable, but the question remains: Will he do his part, or won't he? The heroes can have doubts about that as they wait, captured in a cell, to see if this guy really does come to toss them the key to escape. :-)
    – Amadeus
    Oct 20, 2017 at 13:49

Perfectly doable. Consider the upcoming Marvel Movie "Black Panther." The hero and at least two of the other lead characters were introduced in 2016, two years (and five years) before his movie's debut. And before that, the film's villain was introduced 3 years (and seven movies) before his movie's debut. If you want to really split hairs, the first element of anything related to the Black Panther (The Vibranium metal) was first introduced 7 years (13 movies) before that, with Captain America's shield. For full disclosure, Black Panther was one of the "Original Eight" planned films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so they film makers new it was going to come around eventually.

I would always say if you know the guy is going to be important later, introduce him early, especially if his return is a surprise. I find elements like this are vitally important, because they add to a "reread" factor where the new nature of the item or character being introduced can be seen in two different lights (one without the knowledge and one with). For some fans, it helps introducing other fans because you can take a special joy watching them see the reveal. For fun with this, go to youtube and look for footage of parents who film their kids watching "Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back" for the first time. It's really interesting watching the kids react to the total shock of seeing Darth Vader reveal his secret for the first time.

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