George V. Reilly

The Law of Economy of Characters

Law of Conservation of Energy

A few years ago, after watching one too many whodunnit TV mysterys, I coined my

Law of Economy of Characters
The killer is in­nocu­ous­ly introduced in the first 20 minutes

In real life, the killer may not be known until late in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion—if ever.

In a TV mystery, any non-recurring character who gets more than a few lines has to be a potential suspect—to the audience. The character is not there gra­tu­itous­ly. Their salary is being paid for a reason.

It’s not uni­ver­sal­ly true, but it works more often than not. It’s less true in books, where throwaway characters are easy to introduce.

Googling around, I found the following, attributed to Roger Ebert:

Ebert’s Law of Con­ser­va­tion of Characters
Any main character whose purpose is not readily apparent must be more important than he or she seems

I’m in good company.

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