I recall seeing a movie once where a secondary supporting character said something so funny and witty that when she walked off camera it kicked me out of the movie narrative because I lost interest in following the movie’s plot any further. I wanted to follow her to see what she was going to do next.
Judy Dench has this kind of magnetic pull on me, as does David Tennant, Stanley Tucci and Colin Firth.
What are authors supposed to do when one of our secondary characters suddenly steps forward and demands more face time?
This has happened to me twice. At an active crime investigation in my Nantucket Mystery series, a CSI specialist made a remark that was so wry with dry humor that I had to rewrite the scene and dial it down because it literally stole the focus from the corpse. I never forgot the strength in her voice though, and when it came time to develop my new NOLA series, Jane stepped in, ready-made. It felt like a gift.
I also developed a young, vibrant UBER driver named Cleo for a short story. When the editing phase came, as it always does, I needed to trim the word count. Poor Cleo got axed. I remember apologizing to her as I hit the highlight and delete buttons. Being a frugal writer and knowing that aggressively vocal characters are a truly rare treasure, I pasted Cleo into a blank Word document and saved her for later, vowing to return. She has been very patiently waiting for me to do so, and as I worked on my current WIP I needed a strong new female antagonist and there she was. Another gift.
Readers and family members ask me if I hear my character’s voices when I write. I have to admit that eventually I do although I worry that my family’s going to notify the authorities and send for the men with the nets to come get me.
I remember the very first time this auditory surprise happened because as a newbie writer it scared me. I was drafting a scene with two characters enjoying a tea party when I “heard” the clink of a silver spoon against a fine china teacup. I was alone in the house. I stood up to see who it was, then sat back down as I realized that I’d heard the sound inside my head. Now that I’ve gotten used to the creative writing process I rejoice whenever I reach that level of creativity because then I know I’m solidly in the zone and for my money that’s the most joyous place to ever be.
So, writers, have you ever had a secondary character demand the spotlight? And do you hear voices in your head?