There should be a twelve-step program for writers who become obsessed with their secondary characters. I almost needed one when I was writing Cross My Heart because Archer McCoy, a by-the-book, KCPD officer and the hero’s boss, grabbed my attention and wouldn’t let go. He appeared in the first chapter and was the catalyst for the hero, Jack Sutton pushing his way back into Valentine Cross’ life. McCoy was clearly conflicted about what he was doing but his goal made it important enough to order Jack to find out what Valentine knew about a missing suspect.
Yes, I gave a secondary character a goal, and a long-term goal at that. Why? Because much like giving a villain a goal, motivation and conflict, I don’t think there’s any reason that a secondary character can’t want or need something that directly affects the hero and heroine and is a catalyst for moving the story forward.
McCoy didn’t have a point of view but Jack’s observations gave me a glimpse of the kind of person he appeared to be. Here’s a snippet of their first encounter. Jack thinks he’s getting called into his boss’ office about a car that’s been shot to pieces:
“Sutton!” The sharp demand drew more than his attention when Captain Archer McCoy barked from his open office door. He was holding a file and he didn’t look happy. Great.
There were a few snickers but everyone pretended to be working as Jack followed McCoy back into his office and shut the door. He took the chair in front of the desk when his silver-haired captain darted a brisk nod toward it.
“If this is about the car,” Jack started.
“Forget the damn car,” McCoy growled then ran a rough hand through his hair. “Emmett’s looking into why his snitch burned him.”
That’s when he noticed for all of his spit-and-polish appearance, the man looked as if he hadn’t slept in days and his office reeked of fast food and burned coffee.
I knew I was in trouble when I started typing this conversation. I wanted to know why a spit and polish cop would end up in this predicament. It could have been that he was just a good cop and being told to stop wasting time and money on a dead-end case made the back of his neck itch. Maybe it bothered him because he doesn't know if the case he's about to discuss will have Jack looking for a missing person or a dead body. Or maybe it was personal. I’m a romance author, of course it was personal.
But this was a novella and I didn’t have room for two stories and three or four points of view so wrestling McCoy’s character into a manageable word count meant having it revealed by the hero and heroine and a few defining moments where his actions could be observed by said hero or heroine. At least, that’s the way I decided to handle it.
How about you? Have you ever had a secondary character that you were tempted to let steal the show? How did you handle it?
I'd love to know:)
Cross My Heart