One of the more interesting (and creepiest) scenes I’ve read recently in a horror-suspense novel occurs in Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child’s novel Cemetery Dance, which features a cult of zombies who live in New York City’s Inwood Hill Park.
The scene of which I write doesn’t take place on the island or even in New York City, however; it occurs in a restaurant, while the character eats his breakfast. A creature of habit, the diner has been coming to the same eatery for some time, always ordering the same breakfast, which he routinely eats while he reads the morning newspaper.
Something in one of the newspaper’s headlines or stories and other perceptions he experiences convinces him that God wants him to board the next bus to New York City, where, once he arrives, a divine plan will be made known to him. His intuition that he has been called as a servant of God is confirmed when he finds that all the money he has left to his name, which he carries in his wallet and pocket, is the exact amount of the one-way fare to his destination.
Needless to say, he serves a further narrative purpose once he arrives in the city, advancing the plot as his dubious service to the Lord edges the plot toward its climax. Otherwise, he is of no importance to the story; he is a cameo character.
Preston and Child, like other successful writers of horror and other genres, demonstrate in this scene the effectiveness of introducing not just any character but a compelling character to support or advance their plots, even when this character him- or herself is otherwise of minor importance in the greater scheme of things. Such a technique costs only a little thought and work, but it pays dividends, making one’s writing intriguing rather than merely perfunctory.