Are you a Top Gun fan? It was the first time I’d heard the term “wingman,” but now that word—and the image of Anthony Edwards (yes, the link is for his Twitter page!) as Goose—is part of my character lexicon.
There’s also “shotgun.” Remember calling it out as a kid when Mom had to pile everyone in the station wagon? It was such a big deal to see who got to ride up front with her while the rest of us pummeled each other in the back. Um, as the youngest of four, I got pummeled a lot.
In most fiction, the hero or heroine will have a key friend or confidante. Someone with whom they can share most, though not all, their darkest secrets. It’s important that we see a protagonist have successful social skills with this wingman. Mr. D’Arcy in Pride and Prejudice might come across as proud and arrogant, but we see a warmth from him when he deals with his good friend Mr. Bingley. Despite years of being ignored in the cupboard under the stairs, it doesn’t take Harry Potter more than five minutes to befriend Ron Weasley. And, of course, where would Carrie Bradshaw be without Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte?
But as a reader, how often have you encountered this supposedly secondary character in a book and s/he captivated you? A little? A lot? Did you find yourself thumbing ahead, thinking, “When do we get to the next scene that has THAT character in it??”
I talk to a lot of writers (what? I do!..) so I know I’m not alone in the frustrating experience of having a secondary character who refuses to give up the limelight. So far, these characters tend to be male (hmmm, I’m channeling something, perhaps?). I don’t mean for them to overshadow the hero of the book, but often, the unanswered questions I leave about them beckons readers to tell me, “I want HIS story.”
Of course, this leads to the inevitable spin-off book, even if I wasn’t planning a sequel, per se. We’ve seen it on television. All In The Family begat The Jeffersons. Cheers begat Frasier. Friends begat Joey. Okay, some are more successful than others.
Authors struggle with these characters. I try—often in vain—to stuff them back into their supporting roles. But no, these characters are determined to be the heroes of their own stories. Should I deny them? Should I ignore their pent-up stories? Should I leave the mysteries of their pasts unexplored?
Should I maybe leave them out of the book?
Seriously, that’s what I want to know from readers. Are you tired of the secondary character who is clearly begging to be the hero/heroine of his/her own book? Does it feel like authors are just milking a story line by introducing these secondary characters who are clearly destined to quarterback their own books?
Or do you, as a reader, enjoy the linking of these stories? Do you want a larger story that continually builds on characters you’ve already met in a setting you already know? Does the hint of these secondary characters inspire you to polish off the current book and clamor for the next?
I have started five different books that I swore were stand-alone titles and yet, each time, characters appeared who then wrestled for command of the current plot. Failing to take control, they demanded to have larger roles in future stories. So, I just don’t know. Perhaps it’s unconscious. Maybe all the trilogy movies are having an effect on me. Or maybe, that’s just the way our human brains work. We seek connections. Connected books are good.
Bottom line: Is there a wingman you’d like to see take the wheel? Or, since every positive has a negative, was there one given his/her own book and who made you want to choke?
And, because it’s close to the holidays, I’ll give one lucky commenter a choice of a $25 Amazon card or $25 Barnes and Noble card. Winner to be selected from all comments left by midnight tonight (Nov. 30th).