Do your throw away characters ever refuse to be thrown away.

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HE WAS JUST A LITTLE MAN, nervous and unsure of himself, when he walked into a scene on page 97 of Conspiracy of Lies.

I didn’t know he was coming until he arrived.

It would take another couple of pages before I knew his name: Chester Giddings.

He had a bit part in the book.

That’s all.

One scene.

Walk in.

Walk out.

Say hello.

Say goodbye.

Farewell.

Chester Giddings was a throw away character, nothing more. I needed him one time, then he would be on his way.

My hero, Ambrose Lincoln, had just killed a man who broke into his hotel room with a knife in the dead of night.

The police arrived.

And all of a sudden, here came Chester. I wrote:

“The question is,” the sergeant said to Lincoln, “why this poor bastard wanted to come up here in the middle of the night and kill you.”

Neither had noticed a small man walk uneasily into the room. His face was thin, and his small, beady eyes were squinting behind a pair of gold, wireframe glasses. He was wearing a felt fedora and dressed in a dark suit, much too large for him. His shirt had been neatly pressed, and a pair of garnet cufflinks decorated the end of his sleeves.

“Officer,” he said quietly. His voice was no louder than a hoarse whisper. He was sweating like a little man standing on a platter of burning coals and nervously rubbing his hands together.

The sergeant looked around. He didn’t say a word.

“The gentleman on the floor?”

“Yes?”

“I think I was the one he was trying to kill,” the little man said.

Good morning, Chester.

***

Then, days later, I finally reached page 281.

It was the pivotal scene in the book.

Lincoln was out of pocket.

And Chester was still around.

Lincoln had left the little man in a hotel room, guarding the villain with a pistol.

And I wrote:

“You’re gonna die, Chester,” Gilles said. “You might as well get used to it.”

“But not tonight.”

“You sure about that?”

“No.” Chester’s voice was barely audible.

“I can hear the footsteps coming down the hall,” Gilles said. “You don’t think I was working alone, do you? If you listen real good, you can hear them, too.”

Gilles laughed.

Chester cringed.

“What you have to ask yourself is this,” Gilles said. “Do those footsteps belong to man or to death, or is there any difference between the two. Is he coming for you? For me? Will he stop outside that door and knock, or will he walk on past?”

The silence had grown as stifling as the heat.

Chester turned to look at the door.

Gilles knew he would.

That’s the way it is when you play these kinds of games, Gilles thought. A man makes a lot of mistakes in a lot of situations and in a lot of circumstances, but all he has to do is make one mistake at the wrong time, and he can kiss his ass goodbye.

Chester did.

It would be fatal.

Gilles lunged across the footstool and grabbed Chester’s throat with one hand and groped for the revolver with the other. He had one skill if nothing else. He could break a man’s neck as quickly as he could snap a toothpick.

He growled with rage.

Chester gasped for air.

The chair flipped over backward.

Chester’s head slammed against the floor.

The revolver fired.

And the room grew deathly quiet.

***

Who’s dead, you may wonder?

Well, don’t say a prayer for Chester.

I’ve already told you, the little man refused to leave.

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  • And you don’t think Gilles wants to hang around? With his one skill?

    You play favorites. We all do.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      You’re right, Alicia. There are times when we fall in love with out bit players and keep them around. We never know why. Then the story tells us.

  • I am writing a story where I have two characters–a brother and sister–who were supposed to perish along with their teammates, but by the time of the culling I made sure they were nowhere in sight. So, they survived. I did not plan it, of course, but that is how it happened.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      Woelf: It’s hard to kill off a good character who keeps fighting back.

      • True, and sometimes they are so good they get a story all their own.

  • Darlene Jones

    Yes, and one of those “throw aways” almost took over the whole novel.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      And, Darlene, it happens before you realize it. By then, it’s too late. The character ain’t leaving.

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