Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Second no more - when supporting characters take the starring role

One of the temptations as an author is to revisit secondary characters from previous books, giving them the lead role.  You can get a little crazy about it sometimes, expending too much time and story on characters who should be firmly in the background, prepping the field for a future book, to the detriment of the story you're trying to tell now.

But there are some characters you write who don't strike you, at first, as candidates for the starring role.  But over the course of a story, or maybe even more than just one story, this character keeps catching our attention, doing or saying things on the periphery that make you think, "Hmm.  Wonder what his story is?"

That's what happened to me with the character of Doyle Massey.  He made his first appearance in the final book of my Cooper Justice series, Cooper Vengeance, set in Terrebonne, Alabama.  A sheriff's deputy who worked with the heroine, Natalie, Doyle at first came across as an antagonist of sorts, a co-worker who didn't seem to think too much of Natalie or have much patience with her prickly nature.  But by the time the book was over, Doyle had proved to be a big help to Natalie and J.D., and everybody parted as friends.

When I revisited the sleepy town on Terrebonne, Alabama, in book four of my Cooper Security book, Secret Assignment, it seemed a no-brainer to have my hero interact with Doyle Massey when the heroine went missing. Again, Doyle was more of an antagonist than an ally, at first, but in the end, he came through again.

I figured when I started the Bitterwood P.D. series, there wouldn't be much opportunity to revisit Doyle again.  After all, he was back in Terrebonne, soaking up the Gulf Coast sun, while the characters in Bitterwood were in the Appalachian Mountains, dealing with a Smoky Mountain crime spree.

Until the Bitterwood P.D. chief of police retired under a cloud of suspicion.  With the police department stained by the taint of corruption and looking for a new chief, it seemed the perfect time to toss Doyle Massey into the mix and see whether he'd sink or swim.

In my new Bitterwood P.D. book, Blood on Copperhead Trail, Doyle takes the top job at the Bitterwood P.D. just as the county is considering disbanding the police department altogether, putting the town under the county sheriff's jurisdiction.  Doyle may be the department's best hope of retaining their autonomy, if he can clean up the corruption and convince the county's public integrity officer, Laney Hanvey, that he has what it takes to right the ship.

Conscientious Laney finds his laid-back, life's a beach attitude too flippant for the seriousness of the police department's situation.  But when Laney's sister and two other girls go missing up on the mountain, she discovers there's a lot more to Doyle Massey than she thought.  And he just may be the best man to have at her side when the going gets dangerous.

Do you like to see secondary characters get their chance to shine?  Or do you think authors overuse the convention?


Louisa Cornell said...

So glad to hear Doyle is getting his story!

It is always interesting to me how a character can simmer and simmer in the background and eventually finally step into the spotlight.

I had a secondary character in my first manuscript ever suddenly show up as the hero of my fourth manuscript. It was never my intention to write this particular sequel, but somehow he seemed the perfect man for my heroine and once I discovered his story I knew he was the one.

Carla Swafford said...

You're so right, Paula. There are some seconds that don't need a story, but it's great to see what makes a person tick when they show up with a particular talent or bad habit. :-)

As always, wonderful post.

Jillian said...

I love that you did that for him. I think that was a great way to tie the books together and to give the patiently waiting Doyle a story. I agree with Carla, too though that some secondary characters don't need a story.