Monday, March 30, 2009
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.
Posted by Intrigue Authors at 10:00 AM