Most of my novels have important or influential characters that make an entrance late in the story. I think the trick with these “autumn” characters is to be sure you set up their entrance stage right from the MC’s perspective early-on and with a couple of reinforcements in the story so it’s not a total surprise when they appear (unless of course they’re part of a big plot twist and are supposed to take the reader by storm).
These tardy characters must be there for one of two purposes—to either play a major role in plot development or be a direct influence or barrier to the MCs mental or physical journey. In order to build their overture, the reader should have established a pretty good idea of how the MC relates to this character through verbal or mental dialogue, what the state of their relationship is, and how they are going to affect the MC or what the MC wants.
I’d like to give a few examples of autumn characters in my work and that of others (but I apology for the deliberate vagueness in an attempt to avoid spoilers).
In P2PC, I have several autumn characters make an entrance as the plot begins to wind up and the stakes climb. They are involved with Drea’s (female MCs) quest, but create a dilemma in the relationship between her and Sair (male MC) when she is put in a position of abandoning duty or performing it and offering Sair up as a potential sacrifice.
In Draxis, I have a character who walks a tightrope between being a protagonist or antagonist. He is strictly forbidden from taking a mate, and his attraction to an autumn love interest puts a spin on his perception of honor and duty—and his interpretation of right and wrong.
In Planets, two very different autumn characters emerge—one who has ties to two of the major characters, and another who has influence on everyone. Both autumn characters present issues the MCs must overcome, and they help add new layers of tension, drama and emotional resolution to the climax of the story.
In Ann Aguirre’s GRIMSPACE, an autumn character (who is an established part of the ensemble cast in later books) enters late in the story and appears to be an antagonist that turns out to have a surprising sense of honor. This autumn character is fundamental in helping Jax, the MC, gain what she needs.
In Stephenie Myer’s TWILIGHT, autumn characters arrive in the form of the rival vampire group with a contrasting set of value, which throws the MCs into a desperate and seemingly hopeless struggle to survive.
Autumn characters can add new dimensions to conflict and present formidable obstacles at the turning point in many tales, and so they can play an important role in crafting suspenseful stories.