Thursday, April 17, 2008

Saved by the … Secondary Character?

I once read a book where the secondary character saved the day – and the girl. Why? Because the hero was off doing something else. Never mind that it was relevant to his personal growth and own conflict. But when you’re getting to the end of the book, shouldn’t he have already gotten all that taken cared of in time to save the day and the girl???

I won’t name the book or author. Actually, I have a confession to make myself. I too was once guilty of this. Yup. *Nodding my head in shame here.*

I wrote this excellent book where the at the end, the secondary character saved the day and the girl. Yeah, my hero was there, but he didn’t react quickly enough. To tell you the truth, he didn’t know what to do because he didn’t want to jeopardize the heroine’s safety, since she had a knife at her throat and was used as a human shield by the antagonist. So the secondary saved the day by coming up behind the antagonist and was able to wrestle the knife away, free the heroine, and killed the antagonist.

To my reasoning, that secondary character had more than ample reason to kill antagonist. The antagonist had raped his 14-year-old daughter. I thought it was a very fitting end. My critique partner, however, didn’t agree. She went at me about not having the hero save the heroine and kill the antagonist. It completely ruined the book for her. And you know what? She was right. That “excellent” book is now collecting dust, waiting for me to go back and change the ending. Thank God for critique partners!

So lesson learned. Have the main character save the day, not the secondary character, no matter how great his/her motivation is. And if there’s a girl to be saved, let the hero do the saving. Common sense, I know, but like I said, even I was guilty of this. Let the hero save the day, save the girl … and save your book!


Lexie O'Neill said...

I love to see little tips like this! You think things like this are common sense, but then we all forget them!
I also have a book sitting on my computer where the hero is busy fighting another enemy when a secondary character kills the heroine's ex-husband (who was a good guy and transformed). I need to go back and make the ex a bad guy, I think, so he can die!

Anitra Lynn McLeod said...

Gee, Lexie, what blood lust you have! :)

Savanna Kougar said...

Mai, I find that fascinating about the secondary character being the hero of the hour. Why can't both of them save your heroine? The hero would be even more of a hero in my eyes if he helped the secondary character out with the bad guy.
I've made tons o' missteps, will probably make lots more. I can honestly say this one never crossed my mind. Not that secondary characters don't play a role. Often they do in my stories.
Lexie, I think bloodlust sells these days. With all the serial killers and such stalking romance novels. Yeah, turn the ex bad, and knock him off -- only in the bloodiest way, of course.
Sorry, it's tongue-in-cheek day for me.
No, Lexie, you should follow whatever your truest writer instincts are, whether to turn bad or not to turn bad, that is the question.

Mel Hiers said...

Great post, Mai! I can see where that would make an ending pretty unsatisfying. Besides, if the secondary character is the person who ultimately takes care of the bad guy, why isn't the secondary character the main one instead?

Mai Christy Thao said...

LOL. I like bloodlust, so bring it on, Lexie! I think anything can be done as long as you motivate it correctly. In my case, the secondary character had ample reason to kill the antagonist. But from a reader's standpoint, it's not a satisfying ending if it isn't the hero doing the saving the day part.
I agree with Savanna though. Do what your instincts tell you to do in regards to the heroine's ex. If you keep him good, then hey, that could be excellent internal conflict for the secondary character... enough to give him/her a starring role in a second book! =)

Anitra Lynn McLeod said...

LOL! I just never pictured mild-mannered Lexie as so ruthless! :)

I have one where the hero and the villain have to work together to save the heroine--it made excellent conflict for her and it redeemed my villain so I could use him in another novel as the hero. Much like Mai did with her ATIV entry. I LOVE villains who become heroes. They are usually very dark and tortured and filled with wonderful internal conflicts.

Mai Christy Thao said...

Anitra, I'm up for redeemed villains. They're usually the most interesting to write. Think Spike in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Now that's and interesting character!

Savanna Kougar said...

Spike is a good example!