In my books I’ve always had at least one minor character who insists on playing a larger role than I intended. My most recent series is no exception. In She’s the One Who Thinks Too Much, Ryalgar’s grandmother Aliz was slated for nothing more than an introductory scene, but she not only insisted on sticking around, she quietly took over the entire Velka organization. That is one canny old woman for you…
I’m always curious if other writers experience this and recently I got to ask two very different authors what they thought..
Author Geoffrey Saign has a degree in biology, lives in Minnesota, and has written a YA fantasy series called Magical Beasts. His response to my question was emphatic.
Yes!!! Vampire bat Queen Valera in Book 4, Guardian The Stand, the only book she’s in, is in 5 short scenes. Yet she is so fundamentally important to the story, to the main character, and to the fate of an entire world, that it cannot be overestimated. Plus she is super powerful, mysterious, and interesting! An immortal, she can kick butt, and has no patience for stupidity. But she empathizes with the hero of the series, Samantha (Sam) Green and doesn’t want her to die. When this character first appeared, I had a vague idea about her. Then I loved her immediately and needed to put her into three more scenes. I was so enthralled with her, she came into the climactic ending too.
The same thing occurred in the other books in the series, where a character began as rather mild and ended up as wildly important. In Book 3, Guardian The Sacrifice, the same thing occurred with the Beister, a maniacal killer with huge secrets in his past that directly affected the main character in a shocking way. In Book 2, Guardian The Quest, Drasine, the golden dragon had a significant role, was mysterious, and very powerful. And in Book 1, Guardian The Choice, Heshia, a minor character at first, again became wildly important for the main character, even though she was only in 4 scenes.
Heshia, Drasine, the Beister, and Queen Valera all had a major impact on the main character, the plot, and the ending. They all made my writing more exciting and fun to complete, and the stories richer.
Author M. C. Bunn is a songwriter with a master’s in English who creates Victorian romance novels, including her most recent one, Where Your Treasure Is. She declared that her misbehaved minor characters made her stories better.
If our characters behaved, we wouldn’t have any stories!
Actually, during the first draft of Where Your Treasure Is, a host of characters completely blind-sided me. Though I never planned per se to write a romance that only focused on the lovers, I was unprepared for the world that opened up around them while I wrote their story. There are Winifred’s cousins, young and old, her Uncle Percival and his manservant Morrant, her staff in the town and country—and George Broughton-Caruthers, her handsome, devilish neighbor. Court is a gang member and horse racing enthusiast. His cronies are other prizefighters, cardsharps, gamblers, prostitutes, and circus folk.
The beginning of Winifred and Court’s story came to me in a flash, as did its end. What I had to find out was what happened in the middle. Every time I sat down to write, thinking that I was about to get back to my lovers, all these characters popped out, and the plot, with all its twists, followed them. What was really strange was how familiar they all were. Dorothy felt like that the entire time she was in Oz. Mentally chasing after these characters through London’s streets and around the Norfolk countryside, so did I.
Yet it was Beryl Stuart, Court’s half-sister, who added a richer, darker layer of complications to a plot that could otherwise have easily been summed up as “lonely rich girl meets poor bad boy” and “the course of true love never runs smoothly.” Because of their differences in social class, Winifred and Court were going to have a rough time of it, no matter what. There’s a dark current that flows out of Court’s world into Winifred’s long before their love story begins, though neither one of them is aware of it. Beryl and her friends bring a second love triangle into the plot, which leads to the next book in the series, Time’s Promise.
I’m also deeply fond of Court’s friend Sam Merton, a boy with a love of firecrackers, rip-roaring yarns, and penny dreadfuls, and Winifred’s memoir-writing uncle, the old adventurer Sir Percival and his manservant Morrant.
I appreciate hearing this from both authors. Frankly they made me feel a little more sane!