I have a character Joe who leads the task force hunting my MC. His reputation is known to the MC and he is well aware of how effective he is. Joe is also a good friend of another character, Fred, and it is decided to try and tranquilize him, instead of kill him, out of respect both to his skills and for the mutual friend, Fred.

In this scene, I had Joe lead his men into the community hall and be shot by a well-prepared sniper from a catwalk, who darts him. Joe essentially steps across the threshold, gets shot, looks at the dart, looks up at the catwalk and points, losing consciousness. Temporarily sidelined.

Joe is later referred to by his lieutenant, Sam, and becomes an incentive for the members of the task force who have captured the MC to consider a trade. Sam comes to wonder what color his hat is when they came to eliminate him and were met by non-lethal force.

Joe is taken hostage, becoming a bargaining chip. In my original version, the first full scene with this character is a proof-of-life Skype chat where he is delighted the plan worked and livid that his men might throw it all away just to save him. They would have to start over, chasing him again. They have him and now they are thinking of a trade? Preposterous.

I can give Joe a bit more time before he is darted and temporarily sidelined.

Both are clear, but I feel the original has more tension and is more intriguing.

Would giving this character more screen time increase tension or reduce it?

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    I honestly struggled to understand who was whom in your short summary, not to mention that I am not even sure I follow your thinking. I would chop down irrelevant details and stick to the core message of your text (e.g. the 100 pages loss is uninformative, the Skype chat reference is mysterious at best, the switching between journalistic and stream-of-consciousness styles is confusing.)
    – NofP
    Jan 2, 2019 at 17:18
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    I think your question would be clearer if you could give your characters names, even temporary ones (Alpha, Beta, etc.) I'm having trouble following who's who. Jan 2, 2019 at 18:04
  • I think you are telling the reader to ignore him, by getting rid of him so easily, but I don't think screen time saves you. Instead, IMO, something more on the nose is required. Like him thinking 'You can't get rid of me that easily' as he goes down.
    – SFWriter
    Jan 2, 2019 at 20:12

3 Answers 3


I think you're fine.

In a novel, mentioning a character is very much like showing a character. In the sense of how this character embeds himself in the reader's mind. Obviously, it matters how you mention/show a character, but not as much if it's the narrator describing them vs another character describing them.

In a movie, seeing is everything. You say "screenplay" even though you've talked about this work before as a novel. So in the off chance you meant screenplay literally (or as contrast)...

In the case of a movie, you'd want to establish the character early, so the viewer recognizes him and knows he's important to watch. Then you can have him in the background in multiple scenes. Once the viewer knows to watch for him, s/he'll see him at every turn. This will cement his importance to your audience.

This is basically what you're doing in a novel too. Those frequent mentions are building him up in a way such that, when he's in trouble, your readers will care. The difference is that there are no visuals in a novel (usually) beyond what is inside the reader's head. How you get the character inside the reader's head is not as important as the fact that he's there.

  • I used the term on screen since it describes his appearance in the scene - he doesn’t have time to say anything or do much - just appear and get drugged.
    – Rasdashan
    Jan 3, 2019 at 1:22
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    I have my MC ask ‘Fred’ who is leading the team. Joe. MC says “Little guy, about 5’7” moves like a Russian dancer?” Yes - “Damn, he’s good.” I can’t have all of the characters in the book the same height, so Joe is compact.
    – Rasdashan
    Jan 3, 2019 at 2:44

What I do in similar cases is

write both variants

– you will very likely have a clear feeling for which variant works best.


I think adding more text about an anonymous and irrelevant character would destroy any tension you may have built. You have some anonymous character, who is taken prisoner in the event that MC's party need a bargaining chip. This anonymous character is thus defined enough from the perspective of the story, and as long as it does not serve any other purpose in the plot, it could be temporarily replaced by a bag of potatoes as a placeholder.

However, there is another place where you can add excellent tension. In fact, you have the conflict within the MC's party on whether to kidnap Bag-of-Potatoes or to kill it. You can write down the heated argument in favor of either solution, and even use the grudge that may linger afterwards to create some cracks in the unity of the party.

  • If the MC’s party kills him they lose their bargaining chip and can’t get the MC back. Said SoP is highly skilled which is why he was sidelined immediately - reduce danger and potentially demoralize the task force.
    – Rasdashan
    Jan 2, 2019 at 18:02
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    While you as the author know that, the characters in your novel may need to come to that conclusion, and they can do so by arguing with each other. Some of them may have other ideas on how to get the MC back as well. They may think that retaliation could be a better answer. Remember that in many stressful situations people do not act rationally.
    – NofP
    Jan 2, 2019 at 18:04
  • I have (or had) some members of the task force debate whether to swap their quarry for their boss, whom they actually like. They believe thar as soon as the MC arrives at HQ and leaves their personal custody, their boss is as good as dead.
    – Rasdashan
    Jan 2, 2019 at 20:33

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