Show stealers, every one of them.
I’ve learned a lot about secondary characters over the past few years. As well as my own writing, I also write paranormal romance under the name Taylor Keating with a writing partner. Secondary characters are usually, although not always, my domain, so when my writing partner came up with the character of Nick Sutton in our first book, Game Over, because our heroine needed a friend, I decided to make him the Expendable Crew Member.
Nick became our first real argument as WPs.
“You’re making him too interesting,” my WP complained. “He’s going to Steal the Show.”
“Nonsense,” I replied. “He’s a total ass and anyway, I’m going to kill him. Heh heh heh.” (Picture me chortling and rubbing my hands with maniacal glee.)
She gave me The Look, but said nothing more.
Until the end.
“You can’t kill him,” she said. “Readers will hate us.”
Again, I disagreed. “I admit he was totally fun to write,” I said, “but he’s such a jerk. There’s not a heroic bone in that guy’s body. Let’s see what our trusted First Reader thinks.”
Let me give you an example of an incident in Game Over that truly defines Nick’s character and explains my confidence that he had to die:
Kaye looked up at him, then lifted the back of his jacket to show the gun holstered at his hip. “You have ten minutes to get me inside. After that, I start blowing off the little gamer’s toes, one by one.”
Nick wondered how throwing up in front of Kaye would be received. Crapping himself probably wouldn’t go over any better. “I can’t get you inside,” he said, thinking fast. “I’m not that good. River is the software engineer. But I can get you audio through the com-link.”
It wasn’t going to be good enough. Nick could see it in those freaky, maniac eyes.
I’m sorry, Babe. Not even for River would Nick risk the chance of those lab experiments being unleashed on him. Losing a few toes to gunfire wouldn’t be half so bad.
“I love Nick,” First Reader announced, unprompted, even after reading that passage.
And yet I persisted. “Forget First Reader. Our editor will agree with me,” I said to WP.
“Go ahead and see for yourself,” WP invited me, a glint of victory already in her eye.
“You’d better bring him back,” the editor advised me. “And stop being so mean to him.”
There’s simply no accounting for taste. I conceded defeat. Nick has survived through all three books in the series, and in the third book, Fair Game, he actually gets a chance to be somewhat more admirable.
“I can’t help it,” our editor admitted after reading the final manuscript. “I know he’s a coward and a jerk, but I love him.”
Even so, he’ll probably never get his own story because, believe me, a little Nick Sutton goes a very long way.
So what is it with me and my fascination with secondary characters? Because that’s what it amounts to. Readers wouldn’t like them so much if I didn’t like them too, and yes, a part of me loves Nick. He’s like the child a mother can never be proud of but will love all the same, and visit in prison.
Secondary characters like Nick are very freeing creatively. They can say what they want. Their thoughts and emotions are rarely politically correct. Secondary characters can throw the kid under the bus as long as they have a plausible reason for it. The hero, on the other hand, has to be…heroic. Flawed okay, but unwavering in his commitment to be a better person, especially for the heroine’s sake. His thoughts and emotions always drift toward Doing the Right Thing.
In short, the hero has to save the kid. The secondary character gets to stand back and cheer from the sidewalk, then take him out for a drink after. He’ll probably stiff the hero for the bill, too.
In my new Demon Outlaws series, written for Entangled Publishing LLC under my own name, my editor was happy to discover that the hero’s less-than-upstanding BFF in the first book, The Demon’s Daughter, was going to get his own story. Toward the end of The Demon’s Daughter, even I had to admit the BFF was shaping up to be pretty awesome. In fact, during revisions, I took out one entire scene (and most of a chapter) because in it, he seriously threatened to Steal the Show.
But by writing the second book, Black Widow Demon, based on this secondary character from the first, my formerly flawed bad boy lost all his freedom to be bad. He now had to spend an entire story in Redemption Land. His days of behaving like a schmuck (or in this case, an assassin) were over, and that poor guy had an Unsavory History.
But in Black Widow Demon, he’s all hero. His story is about the future, and potential, not a dysfunctional past.
Series must be my favorite thing to write ever, all thanks to the secondary characters. They open up world building opportunities and interesting new story arcs. (And yes, the hero for book three of the Demon Outlaws series makes his initial appearance in book two.)