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Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Balancing Act: Fighting the Urge to Let Secondary Characters Steal The Show

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


Tina Donahue said...

I haven't had that particular problem with secondary characters, yet. However, I believe that's why sequels were invented. :)

Paris said...

LOL! And thank goodness for them:)I love reading about an interesting secondary character that manages to get his/her own book. Thanks for stopping by!

C. Zampa said...

I had an even worse experience. In my book, a character was introduced who wasn't even secondary. He was only supposed to be one or two scenes, only a person to fill a gap while the hero was split temporarily from his love interest.

The character's chemistry with the hero was so intense, so 'right', I had to switch around in mid-book to make the 'temp' character's personality and looks into THE main love interest.

Sometimes those secondary---and even lower---characters are really, really demanding and stubborn. Next thing you know, they've got a show of their own. LOL.

Interesting post!

Anonymous said...

Love the post. I've found that when you have a great story it tends to write itself. The author only gets t owrite it down as the story is told by the characters. LOL
G W Pickle

Sandy said...

LOL Paris, those demanding characters always get their own stories.

Paris said...

C. Zampa, thanks,have you ever noticed that sometimes a first draft is crystal clear and sometimes it's just there to show you something you weren't aware of but needed to know about a character? I love the creative process, LOL!

Paris said...

Hi G. W., thanks for the comment!

Paris said...

Sandy, isn't that the truth:)

N.J.Walters said...

LOL That's why I tend to write series. Those secondary characters demand their own book. :)

Paris said...

N.J., I think you have a very good point:) Thanks for stopping by!

jean hart stewart said...

Love it when a minor character absotluely stomps into the story.They sometimes have no consideration at all. I've given more than one a much bigger role than I planned, and one got his own book.. Such fun. Jean

Paris said...

Jean, LOL! I love the expression "stomps into the story" and yes, it is fun:)

Katalina Leon said...

I've had a few secondary characters turn their "walk on" parts into show stealers and later revised my first chapter to make them the star of the show.
I've even rolled secondary characters into a main character because I realized they were separate facets of the same complex personality.
I don't see this stuff until I write it and read it back to myself.

Paris said...

Kat, you're much nicer than I am. I make them wait for another book, LOL! But you're right, I've have caught similar traits when I read through what I've written.

Anonymous said...

LOL---glad to know Im not the only one with that problem, Paris! Every book I write has secondary characters that make me notice them more than I should. Readers kept asking for the stories of the secondary characters in my one book and I finally had to write 2 (free) Shorts for them.

Enjoyed the post AND the excerpt!

Hugs, Kari Thomas,

Paris said...

Kari, from the sound of things, we are not alone:)Thanks for stopping by!

Anonymous said...

Well, I have two tragic secondary characters in my full historical that are very important to the H/H who are not tragic. And I remain unpublished. But I like them in there. oh well.
I had another secondary character Hetta have an editor say they liked her better than the heroine. I did too in ways. You have to like Hetta. She's cool. But she wasn't the story told in that mss.
Damn secondary characters. What's a writer to do??

Jaime Samms said...

I thought that's what secondary characters did...Screw the twelve steps. I apparently need full on therapy...

One such character, Matt in Sing for your Supper, turned into an additional love interest. Isn't that where menages come from?

Another, Lil, will get his own story told, come hell or high water. He's told me so, and I'm not dumb enough to argue with a cross-dressing Dom in four inch spikes.

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