Wingmen–The Power of Secondary Characters


What is a hero without his sidekick? It’s time to give due credit to those wingmen and examine just how important their roles are. Consider these heroes and their wingmen:

Tom Sawyer–Huckleberry Fin.
Odd Thomas–Ozzie and Chief Wyatt.
Harry Potter–Hermione and Ron.
The Lone Ranger–Tonto.
Robin Hood–Friar Tuck.

*For the duration of this post, I’m using the term “hero” loosely, interchangeable with “main protagonist.”

Without a doubt, any of these heroes would be less memorable without their wingmen. Why?  They are the hero’s alter-ego, the hero’s voice, their confidence or lack thereof. They are the motivator and yet the instigator. Wingmen accentuate and add depth to the hero’s character and personality.

Study the secondary characters in your writing. Do they react with your hero rather than just follow and take orders? Do they help the hero along his journey? Do they offer advice, goad, or fight with the hero? Do they antagonize or cheer your hero on?

If you answered “YES” to any of these, you have wingmen! Read the list below to see how to enrich the powers of your wingmen.

If you answered “NO” to most of those questions, you may have a character who is ready to blossom into a proper wingman. Read the following list see how you can add attributes to your secondary characters, making them effective wingmen.

1.  MODIFYING CHARACTER: Add depth to your hero with a wingman. Is your hero overly confident? Your wingman could ground the hero’s ego, by consistently reminding him to be humble. If your hero is cowardly, your wingman can boost his confidence. If your hero is excessively intelligent, you can pair him with a ditzy wingman that becomes the hero’s source for that elusive common sense. See where I’m going with this?

2. CORRUPTING MORALS: Your wingman can change the entire belief system of the hero, without being the story’s villain. Wingmen can herald fear and uncertainty, making the inner-challenge *cough–character arc–cough* deeper and more meaningful. Use your wingman as a weapon. Go on. Hurt your hero.

3. HEALING THE PLOT: Make your wingman a tool. If your story is too linear, shake it up. Kidnap the wingman, make the hero go off course to rescue him. If your story is lacking emotion: Kill the wingman. Yup. Happens all the time. Do it. You’ll like it, I promise.

4. ADDING SUSPENSE: Give your wingman knowledge the hero doesn’t know. In this way, you’re also giving the reader knowledge the hero doesn’t know, without telling the reader directly. So–you know the villain is waiting behind the apartment door with a knife, the wingman is tied to the chair behind the villain, and the reader’s going NO NO NO while the hero is opening the door, arms full of takeout dinner, completely unaware. *snicker*

5. MAKING HEROES WINGMEN: Huh? But that defeats the purpose of even having the Hero/Wingman structure, right? WRONG. Think about series novels. The wingmen usually have a subplot of their own. They’re the hero of their own story. So in that way, your hero becomes THEIR wingman, accentuating THEIR story. It’s like preparing for the future, sewing seeds for that second book.

WINGMEN ARE IMPORTANT! They are as much a tool for the author as a comma or outline. If ever there is a plot or story issue you just can’t seem to work out, ask your wingman if he can help.

How do you use and abuse your wingmen? Tell me in the comments!!


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