In my latest work in progress, I am working on a series of chapters in which the main characters, Harry, Dee, and Jenn, are at the Outer Banks on their first family vacation. In it, Jenn pushes Harry and Dee to investigate an odd incident in which they encounter a boy on the beach and then find out shortly after that the police are looking for him because he's been reported missing. The bigger picture goal of this portion of the story is to set up Jenn's interest in private investigation with the intention of spinning her off and giving her a series of her own in which she investigates crimes on campus when she goes away to college.
But it seemed a shame to simply leave it at that. Yes, the goal would be achieved, but as I initially wrote it, the scene in which they encountered a policeman on the beach was, to put it mildly, mundane. To put it more accurately, it was just plain dull. It was marking time. It was setting up something later, but in a really lackluster way.
Yes, there is a place for the seemingly small, almost forgettable event becoming really significant later. There's a subtlety to it. But this scene wasn't designed to foreshadow something big later in the story (at least not when it comes to Jenn's amateur sleuthing career--but that's another post), so why not make the passage, I don't know, entertaining or something.
So I gave the cop a backstory. And not just any backstory. One that intersects with Harry's. He's an old college classmate. One that Harry didn't like much. Specifically, Wayne McGinnis was widely known as the campus hound dog, without many scruples when it came to whether a pretty girl was attached or not. And when he shows a little more interest in Dee than Harry finds appropriate, things get a little tense. And when the completely-without-guile Dee invites him to dinner, they get really tense.
Is it a coincidence that, in the midst of an ongoing investigation back home into the murder and mutilation of several men who were known to be cheating on their wives, the Shalans run into a person from Harry's past? What do you think? Just like in detective work, there are no coincidences in detective fiction. So why has McGinnis shown up? What's his connection to the case back in Parkersburg? I guess you'll have to wait a few months until the book debuts and find out for yourself.
So when I moved from a generic, have-you-seen-this-boy cop to an actual three-dimensional character who becomes a meaningful part of the larger narrative, the scenes moved from humdrum to compelling. And now instead of just furthering the plot and establishing information for later in the book and even for other books down the road, these chapters take on an added dimension of intrigue and interest. Intrigue and interest are almost always a good thing.