Zero Population Subplots

I have a new story peeve that goes hand-in-hand with my gripe about characters who refuse to stay dead. And that is . . .


So here’s the thing. I’ve been Netflixing Once Upon a Time season 5. And while the first half of the season was fine, the second half of the season was apparently concocted to bring back EVERY SINGLE CHARACTER we have ever seen on the show. And if you’ve watched any of that show, you know that’s a LOT of characters. Every episode is some underdeveloped side plot that has absolutely nothing to do with the main plot arc–it’s just there to say, “Hey, remember this person you saw for five minutes back in season X? They’re going to show up in the Underworld whether they’re dead or not!”

Okay. Rant over.

So how do I apply this annoyance to writing?

I have a deep and abiding love of minor characters. But there’s a reason the story isn’t about them.

As writers, we have this deep desire to share EVERYTHING we know with the readers. But we know way more about our minor characters and our worlds than the reader needs–or wants–to know. Subplots are good insofar as they support and drive the main plot. But when a subplot becomes irrelevant to the story, you have to let that subplot g0, often along with a character or two.

You don’t always have to kill the character. But for goodness’ sake, let them move on. Move away. Get a new job. Drift. Have a mid-life crisis. Run away from home. Not knowing what happened to a minor character is much more believable and relatable than knowing exactly what happened to all seventy-two characters in your story until the end of their lives.

If you try to keep bringing back every character, there will come a point where your readers can’t keep them straight, or they won’t even care anymore because there are just too many to become emotionally attached.

All right. Now I’ve gotta go watch some more Once Upon a Time. Because let’s be honest, Killian Jones. (Who came up with that name?!)


First impressions

I fell down on the writing challenge last Monday, but I’m back now with a good one. For any new followers, every Monday I post a writing challenge meant to help develop your story, characters, setting, world, etc.

I have a thing for minor characters. Some of my favorite characters in Demon’s Heart are the ones who play a brief role, the ones I know much more about than what comes out in the end product. I love exploring those characters, because sometimes they surprise you and have a huge effect on the course of the story.

So here’s today’s challenge:


From a minor character’s point of view, write the moment that character meets your protagonist: feelings, first impressions, biases, etc.


Also, the Demon’s Heart blog tour has started! If you’re interested in seeing reviews, interviews, crazy facts, and more, click here to see a list of the participating blogs.

Why do we care about Coulson?

Here’s your warning: major Marvel nerdiness and minor spoilers ahead.

So my husband and I have been making our way through the first season of “Agents of SHIELD.” Haven’t been super impressed so far. I mean, it’s okay, but the only reason I’ve stuck with it is to find out how Agent Coulson is still alive.

Last night, we watched the episodes where Coulson is taken by Centipede and stuff happens and you really, really super hate the creepy lady in the flower dress.


I’ll be honest, I was a little traumatized. If I were the crying type, I probably would have cried. Especially at the last bit, with Coulson and the doctor in the car . . .

All that emotional distress led to an interesting question:

Why the heck do we care about Phil Coulson?

Seriously. Him and his cellist from Portland. What is it about this little man with a receding hairline that made it so wrenching when he got an alien blade through the chest? He doesn’t have superpowers. He doesn’t have a cool bow with exploding arrows. He doesn’t deliver constant snappy one-liners. Why was his death such a blow?

My thoughts:

1. Familiarity. I love it when characters from one book (or movie) show up in another one that’s only loosely connected. As in, not a sequel or prequel. By the time we got to the Avengers, Coulson had shown up multiple times in the Marvel movies. It was always brief, but he was there. He was the thread tying them all together.

2. Character foil. In a universe of Hulk-sized egos and unbalanced superheroes raring for a fight, Coulson is quiet, efficient, and disarmingly friendly. He doesn’t rise to any bait. He doesn’t march around in a cape or a giant robot suit or a spangly outfit. He doesn’t even have a mysterious eye patch. He is a refreshing island of sanity in an ocean of super-sized egos.

3. Personality. Seriously, how can you not like the guy? I swear, he’s the only person in the Marvel movies that ever smiles. He’s a completely capable SHIELD agent while still being kind of a lovable dork. (Captain America trading cards, anyone?)

What do you think? Am I alone in my love of Agent Coulson? Are there any minor characters that you’ve liked better than the protagonist? What makes them so special?