Monday, March 30, 2009

Second Bananas Get Their Chance to Shine

Developing secondary characters into Heroes and Heroines in future books is something that some authors have been doing for a while. I think of great series by Jo Beverley or Rachel Lee‘s Conard County books or Suzanne Brockmann‘s Tall, Dark & Dangerous series. Oftentimes, the supporting characters--a partner or other precinct cops, former army buddies, siblings, other townsfolk, the loyal secretary, even the enemy--stole the story from the main characters for me. Those second bananas leaped into my imagination and became as 3-dimensional as the lead characters. Those “other guys” became the characters I wanted to see featured in a story of his or her own.

I've always done this with my Intrigues--for 3 reasons. First, those are the kinds of books I like to read --where you get introduced to a character in one book, get to know him/her over the course of a book(s), and eventually get to see him/her featured as the main character in his/her own story. To me, there's just a depth of character development, along with a rich history of story background that's hard to get in a completely stand-alone book. I love reading and creating a community of characters. With my Taylor Clan, Precinct and Precinct: Brotherhood of the Badge books, I've created such a community of characters I can meet, get to know, see featured, and revisit across the books. Most of the books are stand alone stories, so the reader gets a complete story, but for those who read more than one of the books, there's that something extra of, oh yeah, he's that rookie detective who messed up, got shot and sent to the hospital, and now is back as a seasoned veteran and true hero material. Later, because s/he lives in Kansas City and works in or with characters of my fictional Fourth Precinct, that character can be revisited. For example, my very first hero, Mitch Taylor, in ONE GOOD MAN, has progressed over the years so that he is now precinct chief--his son in one story is now a grown man about to become a second generation cop in a future story.

Second, because I write such a community of characters, I'm often surprised by how strongly a secondary character will jump off the pages, demanding to have his/her story told. That's the case in the book I'm currently writing, BEAUTY AND THE BADGE, that features Detective Kevin Grove, who has been a supporting character throughout my Brotherhood of the Badge miniseries. He was gruff and tough and dedicated to solving his case--but he just started nagging at the back of my mind as I was writing the others. "These guys get to find their happily-ever-after. I know I look like a beast and I'm a better cop than I am a catch, but hang it all, I need to find some happiness, too." and so on. So, when those characters talk to me, I write their stories.

And thirdly, yes, sometimes I create a book for a secondary character because readers email or write and ask me for so-and-so's story. That's how my Precinct series was born. I got more mail asking me for T. Merle Banning's story (a rookie computer geek detective who screwed up a case in one book, got shot up in another, was partner with a heroine, etc. throughout my Taylor Clan series). Readers wanted to see him grow up and get his woman. So it was a lot of fun for me to help him mature into the hero of PARTNER-PROTECTOR.

I find that writing the secondary character's story depends. Actually, with on ongoing series with my Taylor Clan and Precinct books, I don't always know which secondary characters will really come to life for me and start telling me their stories, so I don't necessarily plot and plan to reveal a specific backstory that with come into play if/when they get their own stories. I develop them as secondary characters to fit the needs of the current story, not the one where s/he winds up being the main character. As a moderate to severe pantser when it comes to my writing, that has always worked well for me. Then, when I find a character speaking to me (or readers asking me) to create his or her own story, I just go with what has already been laid out in previous books--and that isn't terribly stressful.

Only occasionally do I run into a problem doing it that way. The most notable was when I turned supporting character Merle Banning into a hero for PARTNER-PROTECTOR. Over 7 books, he had grown from young geek to his own man, scarred by gunshots, denied the woman he thought he loved, devoted to the facts and logic that had never failed him. That was terrific backstory for his character (I paired him with a free-spirited psychic who trusted her intuition more than facts--his complete opposite in many ways). BUT... not knowing he was a hero in the making, I'd named him "Merle". No offense to any Merle men out there, but I just didn't find that to be a heroic name. So, I had fun coming up with a little more backstory so that I could give him a different name, while staying true to what had already transpired. I worked in that Merle was his middle name, that he didn't go by Thomas, because that was his father's name, and a crime/suicide had soured that name for Merle and his mother. But, the heroine had an impression, and saw him writing "T", so she called him "T". Which turned out to be more manly for me.

I actually find it harder to develop secondary characters into main characters when I purposely propose a miniseries or trilogy. It's hard for me not to reveal too much in earlier books, and save the meat for each character's featured story. I often run into wanting to reveal too much about too many people, taking the focus from the main characters. It just involves more planning than I normally do when I write. Changes the process for me a bit.

And I do love it at the other end of things, when the book is done and readers comment on it. Someone almost always surprises me by a) which secondary character they want to see again and know more about, or b) in a planned series, who turns out to be their favorite characters. It's not always who I expect. But that's one of the cool things about fiction--and why I'm glad there's such a diversity of writers and lines--there's someone and something to appeal to every reader!

What are your favorite series of books by an author or group of authors--where supporting characters you get intrigued by finally get their chance to shine as the hero or heroine?

Or, if you have any other questions or comments, feel free to ask.

And did you get a load at the cover for my June Intrigue, Pulling the Trigger? LOVE it!! It's part of the Kenner County Crime Unit continuity series from Intrigue--and it features, you guessed it, a supporting character who finally gets his chance to save the day, and reclaim the woman he has always loved. Native American search and rescue expert Ethan Bia is a former Army ranger who always gets his man--and eventually, his woman. When a suspect wanted in connection to an FBI agent's murder escapes into the mountains of Colorado, it's up to Ethan to find him. He just never counted on having to partner up with Agent Joanna Rhodes in the search--she's the woman who once loved him, and left him behind to pursue her career.

Julie Miller


  1. Oh, those secondary characters! As they grow through series, myself as a reader, can't wait for their stories!! Julie, I love your precinct books...ALL of them! And it's great that your putting in a title for the Kenner County Crime's become one of my fav harlequin series!

    Favorite Series? LOL oh, there are so many! JAK's Arcane Series, Stephanie Laurens Bastion Club, Stella Cameron's Bayou books,Joanna Waynes Colts Run, B.J. Daniels McCalls and Whitehorse series......*huge grin* and of course your Precinct Books! :D

  2. Thanks! I know you're an avid reader, so I'm honored that my Precinct boys made your list ;)

    And yes, I'm excited at the Kenner County Crime Unit series, too! It was a cool bunch of authors to work with. We had a loop when we were putting all the stories in the series together, and it was really helpful to plot and build characters, plant clues, etc. that way. Also great for research. I think we had an expert author with an answer for any question we had. Lots of varying areas of expertise.


  3. I know it's probably difficult to pull together a series with different contributing authors, and some fall short, but the Kenner County Crime Unit......It just seems to get better and better with each installment! *applause,applause* WTG girlfriends!!! :D

  4. I've always loved secondary characters as a reader, but it wasn't until I started writing that I really understood how these people can grab your attention. I just finished the 1st six Troubleshooters books, and Sam and Alyssa totally dominated my attention throughout all six books.

    But the other cool thing about secondary characters is how it mirrors real life. We watch people fall in and out of love all the time, so it makes total sense that the geeky guy in book 1 would eventually find his one true love by book 7. And it feels like a community, a place we can go where we know everyone, and love them, and want them to be happy. You really excel at this facet of creating a great, emotional read!

  5. Thanks, Anne! I especially love what you said about mirroring real life. That sense of community is my favorite thing about reading connected stories.

    And I agree with you on Sam and Alyssa. Two very memorable characters who leaped off the pages. Unfortunately, moreso than some of the main H/h.


  6. I really love it when a secondary character gets his own book. I often wonder what happens to a character in a book. I have so many favorites but "Whitehorse, Montana" series is certainly one of them.
    I also enjoyed "Five Alarm Babies" series by Delores Fossen.

  7. I love books in a series. I like it when you learn about what is going on in the lives of the previous characters. My favorite series are Rachel Lee's Conard County and, of course, your Brotherhood of the Badge series. I've found other series that I love too, but there are just too many to list. My only complaint, is having to wait for the next book, especially if you have to wait months versus just waiting for the next month. Oh, who am I kidding, I just hate waiting period!!! :D


  8. I enjoy series books.
    One of my favorites is Stella Camerons Bayou books.

  9. Oh Julie, I can hardly wait for these books. My favorite series has to be the Taylor Clan books. I found myself wanting meet them when visiting my daughter in Kansas City!!

  10. Denise--I'm a huge fan of Rachel Lee's Conard County books, too! I'm so glad to see her return with some new books in the series. Who are your favorite characters? I'd be hard-pressed to choose just one, but I know Gage Dalton, Micah Parish and Sheriff Nate Tate would be on my list.

    Hmm...I haven't read any of the Bayou books by Stella Cameron, but with two recommendations here, I'll need to check them out. Thanks!

    Hey, Connie! Good to "see" you here. Isn't K.C. a great place to visit?

    Julie Miller

  11. It's hard to choose just one character from Rachel Lee's Conard County series. I believe I would have to choose Micah. Something about the strong, silent type. I really liked Emma too and I think she was perfect for Gage. I also am glad she is writing more books in the series. They are wonderful so far.

    Also, really can't wait for Detective Grove's story in the Brotherhood of the Badge series.


  12. I love the series and how you all work together to bring to the characters to life etc.

    I love when you all bring secondary characters stories to front too.

    Here is list of some of my series.
    Precinct books that you have written
    bj daniels the whitehorse series
    joanna wayne colts run series
    debra webb colby agency
    five alarm babies delores fossen
    montana confidential series of books
    texas confidential series of books
    chicago confidential series of books
    here is few others that are not Intrigue Books
    Fortune of Texas
    Lone Star Club
    Redstone Incorporated Justine Davis
    Colton family
    Cavanaugh Justice series Marie Ferrarella