Is It Ever Too Late to Introduce a New Character?

I am reading Laura Lippman‘s I’d Know You Anywhere and was surprised to encounter a new character being introduced about 170 pages in, a little less than halfway through the book. This new figure wasn’t ushered in by a character already established — I simply turned the page to a new chapter and started reading about a woman whose name I didn’t recognize, didn’t know anything about. Lippman organizes her chapters by alternating from past to present, 1985 in one chapter to the present (2010) in the next, so I wasn’t sure if we were then or now, or what.

I felt lost, disoriented, at first, because, at page 170, I had been sailing along, getting into a groove, having met everyone I thought there was to know, and suddenly I felt like I had been tossed into the water scrambling for a life vest. Sure, sometimes that can be exciting, but for some reason here it felt like an intrusion: Who is this person? What is she doing here in MY book? But after reading a page or so, I figured out who she was, and when she was, and the suspiciousness waned. What’s funny is that I was surprised at how quickly I accepted her, once I slipped her into my mental catalog of the book’s characters. But part of me questioned why the author hadn’t mentioned her before, because she could have. Would the book have read any differently?

The encounter made me wonder: Is it ever too late to introduce an entirely new character into a book or a story? Is there ever a point when the reader will not accept her or him with open arms?

What do you think?

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6 thoughts on “Is It Ever Too Late to Introduce a New Character?

  1. “Is it ever too late to introduce an entirely new character into a book or a story?”

    Depends on the book or story…

    “Is there ever a point when the reader will not accept her or him with open arms?”

    Depends on the reader…

  2. An interesting question. I’m glad you ended up accepting the character, and enjoying the book. I was reading a short story recently that introduced a character midway through and I had NO idea who the person was, was confused by the sudden introduction, and even almost thought the person was actually another character altready introduced (and the writer used the wrong name–not so). I never got comfortable with the new character, and I eventually ended up not liking the story because I thought the writer had done such a bad job! I wonder if it had been a novel instead of a short story if my experience would’ve been different. A really interesting question!

  3. If the new character adds to the story, great. If it hinders the story line making it clunky, it should be eliminated. Murder your darlings as Stephen King says. Kill off what is unessential.

  4. I introduce a new woman character in chapter 16. She’s moving from Chicago to a little burg in the Ozark mountains to see if she can finally write–like she’s always wanted to, but never had enough time. There is a connection between her and one other established character, and he’s the reason she decides to come to that town. At least, she will be familiar with one other person. During the story, she becomes a part of the town, and a close friend of the protag. One of my critiquers suggests writing her out. What is your opinion?

    • I think if the introduction is done right, any character can be accepted at any time in a book. If you feel this character is necessary to your story, then you should do what you need to do. I wonder why your critique partner wanted you to write her out, as opposed to strengthening her development. My advice would be to take another look at this character and see if she brings something to the table. If not, then either make it work (delve deeper),or, if it just won’t, perhaps it’s time to say goodbye. Best of luck! And thank you so much for stopping by!

      • Thanks so much for responding. At this point, I intend to leave her in. She brings needed fin- ancial resources to this little town as well as a “big city” presence (without being overwhelming) to expand the place’s outlook/horizons. FYI,I’m on Facebook as Pat Couch Laster. The present book I’m working on is a sequel to “A Journey of Choice,” published in Sept. ’10. PL

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