I was once told in high school freshman English class, while studying Romeo and Juliet that the reason Shakespeare had to kill off Mercutio was because he was becoming too great, too good, too much of a favorite. He would have commandeered the story. I have no idea if this is actually true, and really, how could we know (unless you have a TARDIS and can go back and ask Billy Shakes himself). As an artist, both performance based and written, that stuck with me. Sometimes the side characters are so interesting that they can pull focus. In acting, that can be bad, when you’re ensemble and suddenly everyone is watching you and not the main action (notice I say “can” and not “always”). In writing, it can be just as distracting, unless, you as a writer, find a way to allow that character room to breath. Now, Shakespeare wasn’t writing a novel, and had to make sacrifices for the good of the visual story, but as writers, we can keep going, fill it in, make room; we have pages and pages to do that, IF we do it right, and in service to the story.
That said, I knew, going into my own book, Turned/Red, that my side characters were far more lovable and interesting than Red herself. That was on purpose. I wanted Red to be incredibly flawed, which meant, I needed someone “good” to balance that out. In my head, the “hero” of the story was always going to be Hunt, not the POV character. (Note: I’m not gonna spoil it for you, trust me, I wouldn’t do that). But “hero” is an interesting definition. Most of us describe that as the quintessential “good guy,” of which, Hunt is, so I feel confident without ruining anything for you as describing him as that; it was the category I put him in when I began writing.
But I never expected to find him both the most difficult character to find “voice-wise” or the most rewarding to experience. He was difficult in the sense that he never fully revealed himself to me, preferring to keep to the shadows and reveal his story bits and pieces as I went. That’s rewarding in its own rite, that he lives in your head enough to come through without being heavy handed. He became my “favorite” because of that. And because of that, I knew I had to be careful. This could turn into just Hunt’s story instead of Red’s.
But also because of that, I couldn’t just push him aside. He needed room. He needed to be apart of the story, and so he became that. Whether he was one the page or not, Hunt became my own backbone, my own hero. Does that matter in telling Red’s story? Yes, yes it does. These characters don’t necessarily need to be on the page to help inform the actions of the characters that are on the page at that moment. To have such a “favorite” is a good thing. It breaths dimensionality into the story. I’m glad he was there.
I am also glad that my English class stuck with me. It’s a cautionary mantra. When you discover a favorite, as a writer, you have to suddenly tread lightly. Keep that in mind when the character enters the scene, knowing that she/he could be a scene-stealer and be prepared. If you’re prepared, I feel like you an maneuver, and play with your “favorite.” Does that mean you’ll eventually have to kill off your favorite like Shakespeare, not necessarily. But it does mean you need to be prepared to let them go. If that’s what the story needs.
Hunt has always been the sounding board of Red’s character, whether that’s on the page in the story, or just in my head. More often than not, it’s the later. He’s the rudder, no matter if I broke him or not, if I tossed him aside or not, if I put him through every obstacle or not.
Some would argue that that character should be your lead/POV character. I’d argue against that. They are “supporting” characters for a reason: to support your lead on their journey. When your favorite turns out to be one of those “supporting” characters, go with it. Let it happen and don’t feel bad. It doesn’t make your lead any less “lead.”