Writing Don’t: Jane and John Doe

When you have a character that doesn’t really have, well, any character you have created a Jane/John Doe. Though it may be intriguing to you to include one, but they are only really useful if they are a dead character in a murder mystery novel. Characters are meant for flavor, not place holding. There are only a few times that using a Jane Doe or a John Doe can be useful:

  1. If you have a character that will only be in one scene.
  2. If that character will not add to the plot in any way.
  3. Or, that the fact that this character exists solely to be an instigator of a minor plot device.

Though we often don’t recognize a Jane/John Doe when we create one they are still prevalent when they are included into our stories. More often than not they are they are that character that states the obvious and play a minor role, like that guy in the Superman shows from forever ago. You know, “It’s a bird. It’s a plane. No. It’s Superman!” That is the only thing that character does and really it’s more of an announcer role rather than a character. So I guess you can say it’s a non-character so to speak.

They may also show up as more major characters as well if you haven’t figured your characters out to their fullest yet. For example, my characters in the first attempt at a novel were really Jane Doe characters. Only one had a personality, and a backstory. The other three pretty much their appearances and that is it. No backstory. No personality. Not even powers. Just a physical appearance and a relation to the character who had a backstory. These girls were my main characters and they had absolutely nothing going for them. Hence it was one of the reasons why that novel got thrown out the window. I wished I could fix them, but I was so far gone that there was no way I could hope to fix it and still be a semblance of a novel.

But, that doesn’t mean you should lose hope! You can still fix your Jane/John Doe! Here are some tips based on where I saw that I had gone wrong with my characters.

  • Try to create a character profile on all of your characters.
    • This can be a more simplified version of your profile if you are using a minor character. Not every single character needs to be drawn out.
  • Every character has a purpose. Find it out and put them to use.
    • If this is the only thing that you include in their profile then fine, because if you aren’t sure you want to keep them you’ll have something to refer to when you make that decision.
  • Each one is a individual.
    • Characters are people too! You don’t have to go with the basic brown hair/eyes and have them blend into the walls. If in your mind they have eyes that glow red awesome! Include it!

So don’t do what I did and give up on your characters Jane/John Doe or not. They are still important. Even if you have to kill the darlings anyway.

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One thought on “Writing Don’t: Jane and John Doe

  1. Excellent advice! Sometimes I have trouble with the main character’s parents. However, I think the best mystery novels give the dead body a backstory and people who cared about it. It’s hard, but the victim should always be more than just a victim, if possible.

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