Sulari Gentill Shares “The Scene Stealer” Moments

Sulari Gentill Shares The Scene Stealer MomentsA crime novel generally hosts a reasonable cast of characters—the protagonists, their sidekicks, the suspects and several minor characters.

The latter range from literary extras who don’t exist in the text as individuals, dealt with in lines like “the room was crowded” or “there were several people ahead of him in the queue” to speaking parts with brief but crucial roles to play in the plot. Occasionally, one of these minor characters takes their shot and steals the scene.

In a crime novel this is not always a bad thing. Mystery writers have long used distraction and diversion to hide murderers and clues in plain sight, and how better to misdirect the reader’s attention than to allow a minor character their moment in the spotlight. Perhaps it is for this reason that the upstaging antics of characters whose only job was to close the door, deliver a parcel or inform the protagonist of something or other is tolerated more than it might be in other genres.

As much as it may be a useful diversion, the minor character who grabs the microphone and begins to sing is not necessarily doing so under the conscious direction of the author. Most writers have from time to time found themselves dealing with characters who deviate from the script, who suddenly burst out of their confined purpose in the plot with a story of their own about which we were previously unaware. They seem to say, “Yes, I know that there’s been a murder and we’re all very concerned, but let’s just talk about me for a moment…”

Of course, including the backstory of every passing human in the text would probably not be the best decision a writer to could make, but when a character is so determined to have their moment that they evade the writer’s better instincts and sidestep the plot, then perhaps they have earned a larger place in the narrative. It is just an audition though, and most writers are tough casting directors. For those minor characters who make the cut, however, roles may be rewritten and expanded, and there is always the possibility of a lead in the sequel.

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