A character type I’ve noticed a lot in recent months of reading is what I call the chaos character. Not only does the character create chaos around him by his actions, he fills many pages as he flounders about the main character or characters as they try to move forward toward their plot goal for the book.
Last night, the novel I read was peppered with the antics of a chaos character— an elderly uncle who kept appearing where he shouldn’t be so the other characters would have to stop what they were doing to keep him safe, or he would bring in new characters who might be involved in the mystery so he was making things more complicated and tainting the investigation.
Did his almost constant presence improve the novel? No, the plot turned into chaos to the point that no one was moving forward, and the plot had to solve itself. A slight dose of this character could have been used for humor. Instead, he proved to be nothing more than page filler which destroyed the mystery.
Can a secondary chaos character work? As I said, in a small dose, yes. In my TIME AFTER TIME about reincarnation, my hero and heroine are visiting a powerful psychic who is trying to help the hero convince the heroine that reincarnation is a real thing. Everything is going positively until a medium friend of the psychic wanders in and blurts out information about the heroine’s mother that emotionally destroys the heroine.
I use this chaos character, not only to mess up the hero’s plan, but, more importantly, to allow the hero to finally discover why the heroine is so reluctant to accept reincarnation. After her mother’s sudden death, she was preyed on and badly hurt by a fake medium so that anything remotely resembling spiritual explanations or events freaks her out. The main characters must move past this to find their happy ending.
A chaos character can be used as an important character, mostly as a villain. The Joker from BATMAN is a chaos character as well as a psychotic killer. Loki from THE AVENGERS is also chaotic. As a comic character, both can be over the top in a way that a novel character can’t so care must be taken in how this type of character is used.
A bit of chaos can add humor, danger, or misdirection, but too much creates a mess of a novel.