Writing tips. Saying goodbye to Bob.

While scouring the Internet for any advice that could distract me, ahem, I mean help me with revising my novel, one of the most useful comments I found (in several places) regarded weeding out your disappearing characters.

You know. The Bobs, Petes and Daves* who make a splash in the first couple of chapters only to evaporate, never to be heard from again.

The editorial wisdom is as follows:

  • If Bob doesn’t show up again then you forgot about him.
  • If you, the writer, forgot about him, the reader will forget about him. Unless they’re called Bob, particularly close to someone called Bob, or just find the name as innately humorous as I do (no offence. I blame Blackadder Goes Forth).
  • If he’s this forgettable then your book probably doesn’t need Bob. Delete him. Harsh but necessary.


  • If it serves your story, be merciful and rewrite him to give him enough to do in the rest of the book to justify his existence.

I was harsh. There was a pleasant young man called Simon drifting about in the earlier drafts of my novel, Art and Soul. He had a blossoming romance with Phoebe, the teenage daughter of one of the main characters. Sadly for Simon, he failed to contribute enough to my story and so I deleted him. However, I am happy to report that Phoebe was entirely unruffled by my ruthlessness. In fact, Simon’s removal gave her more time to focus on her exams, she aced her A-levels and got into her first-choice university in London. Good on ‘er.

And though I was sad to say goodbye to Simon, I think my novel is stronger as a result. Simon might disagree, but then I haven’t heard much from him lately anyway.

* There’s always a Dave somewhere.

 Claire Huston / Art and Soul

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