Friday, August 27, 2010
People often ask me who my favorite characters are. After thirty-six books, I've had quite a few. But I'll be honest with you. My favorite character is often one of the secondaries. The supporting players who fill out the story, but don't make it.
The reason for that is perfectly selfish. In any popular fiction book, the protagonists basically exist within a certain behavioral range. They aren't allowed to be amoral or completely selfish. In my current book, BARELY A LADY, what criticism I get is for my hero Jack, who wakes up from a bad head injury with amnesia. Among the first things he remembers --in detail--is the mistress he had after he divorced my heroine Olivia. There are people who simply can't forgive Jack for not vilifying the woman he believes was a positive force in his life, or for admitting that he had feelings for her.
He broke the rules, and some readers won't forgive him. Which is perfectly understandable. Now, if Jack had been a secondary character, nobody would have thought about it at all. Secondary characters can be anybody, do anything, and it's okay, because they're not the moral center of the book.
One of my favorite characters of all time was in my books BAD MEDICINE and HEAD GAMES. He is a lawyer named Frank, who is a sociopath. Not a violent sociopath, like Mouse in the Easy Rawlin's series. More your jolly con-man kind of sociopath. And he knows it.
I didn't know when I first wrote about him that he was a sociopath. I just thought he was a lawyer who had sued my heroine Molly Burke. Over the course of the book, though, I realized that he was so much more.
Frank was really fun to write, because he had few boundaries. And he was a surprise. The same happens with most of my secondaries. Because there aren't any restrictions on them, they become kind of my gift to myself, the surprise that makes the book exciting. I mean, I know what the story is. I know how it ends. But it's my secondary characters who change the flavor, at least for me.
In my Drake's Rakes series, I got to give my character Lady Kate an entire household of fun characters that I'm continuing to play with throughout the course of the series. In fact, as I write Kate's story, her staff is about to go out on a rescue mission.
Even more fun, I gave Kate a companion. An elder woman named Lady Bea, who was Kate's sister-in-law. But Bea is special. After suffering a head injury of her own, she suffers from a condition called expressive aphasia. She can hear the words and concepts she wants to express in her head. But the correct words simply don't come out. So Bea has figured out a rather convoluted way of communicating that most of the time only Lady Kate can understand. And if it gets really hard for Bea to communicate, she sings. I've had people tell me that Bea is their favorite character in BARELY A LADY. And truly? I can't argue with them. I adore Bea. And she hasn't even had her starring turn yet. Until then, I hope to have a lot of fun with her.
Secondary characters are like that.