I’m delighted to welcome Jim Alexander with his post about the importance of secondary characters and the roles they play in a story. Over to you, Jim…
We are all main characters in our own minds; in our own worlds. The people around us are the supporting characters. In some ways it’s an abstract concept.
The supporting character. Discuss.
To exist solely as ballast; to react to what a main character does; be affected by their actions. Even if they step away and give the impression they’re doing their own thing, it’s inevitable they’ll be dragged back into the main character’s slipstream. Or they simply disappear, their contribution done, consigned to some empty, undefined nothingness beyond the page.
And it should read supporting characters–plural. For every main character there are a host of secondary ones. There are exceptions of course, the opportunity to shoehorn that lovely word ensemble into proceedings apart, which I’m not going to dwell on. Instead I’m going to mention my book GoodCopBadCop. That has a main character. That has a multitude of supporting characters, as real as I can make them, genuine and fully-rounded; real in my own mind; real in their own minds.
GoodCopBadCop is a modern crime take on Jekyll and Hyde where the ‘good cop’ and the ‘bad cop’ are the same person. So you’ve got the main character right there, bolted down for all to see. Or main character(s) as I like to coin it, as our protagonist Detective Inspector Brian Fisher veers from ‘good cop’ persona to ‘bad cop’ with unerring, scalpel-like precision. The book immerses him in the shadowy streets of Glasgow, and then takes him to the leafy suburbs of the likes of Milngavie, the brutal dehumanising nature of the crimes he is investigating never far away.
Photo by scottishstoater on Unsplash
And yet with all the checks and balances in place, how can someone so unstable still continue as a policeman? It’s not just how each supporting character relates to him, interacts with him, but how they exist in their own right as a person, how authentic and sympathetic they come across, that’s the key. That’s what makes GoodCopBadCop credible. That’s what makes the situations he finds himself in plausible.
We have Detective Sergeant Julie Spencer. She is naturally upbeat despite a home life dominated by her mother suffering from dementia; despite frustration at the blockers in her professional life; the lack of prospects for promotion. But still despite this, and perhaps because of this, she is genuinely invested in what she does, as she explains in her own words:
‘And yet, yeah, I still tried to fall on the side of being positive. Glass half full. I think I helped protect people. I mean, I hoped that I helped people. I was sure I helped people. I liked the way kids pointed at me on the street when in uniform (although since turning DS, these days this was an all too rare occurrence). I was happy to think I did some good.’
Now, DS Spencer has been partnered up with DI Fisher. Fisher’s immediate response is to be uncooperative and stonewall his new partner. But things develop, and slowly Spencer is dragged into the sheer unpredictability and moral morass that is DI Fisher’s alter-ego state. Matters come to a head forcing Spencer to face up to something she has previously shied away from; to openly challenge the blockers in her professional life and try to resolve the situation between her and DI Fisher. And in so doing strike at the heart of solving the mystery that is GoodCopBadCop.
Another character is Dr Dawn, a psychiatrist specialising in helping public sector workers, who DI Fisher has to report to. She wastes no time in introducing herself:
‘My name is Doctor Dawn Preston,’ she said. ‘But please, you can call me Dawn, or Dr Dawn, or DD. Whatever you feel comfortable with. I don’t tend to take notes on our first session. We simply get to know each other. So, please feel free to talk about anything that’s on your mind.’
As the story develops, Dr Dawn teases out from DI Fisher a confession of sorts. Who he might be? How he came to arrive at this point; this moment in time. To come to terms with the two warring personas that forms an uncertain and volatile whole. At one point, in his role as narrator, Fisher confides the following to Dr Dawn:
‘It is only the bad who see me for what I truly am, the corrupt and the wicked. It is the good and virtuous who look away.’
To make the novel GoodCopBadCop believable; to make it something that sucks in the reader, beguiles them, makes them want to read more, there is nothing abstract about it. The supporting characters need to work and do the heavy-lifting. The Reader needs to care ultimately in the end whether or not they choose to look away.
About the Book
GoodCopBadCop is a crime novel with a twist. It is a modern crime take on Jekyll and Hyde where both ‘good cop’ and ‘bad cop’ are the same person. This is not a story about a good man turned bad, or a bad man turned good. Both good and bad arrived at the same time.
The novel delves deep into the psychological trappings, black humour and surrealist overtones of the crime novel. Tartan noir with a delicious twist. It really gets into the gut(s) and mind(s) of the main character.
About the Author
Jim Alexander is an award-winning writer who has worked for TV (Metal Hurlant Chronicles) and for DC (Batman 80-Page Giant, Birds of Prey) and Marvel (Uncanny Origins, Spectacular Spider-Man). GoodCopBadCop is his debut novel.