Bizarre right? I mean, how much trouble can a six-year-old cause? Well, if you have one of these, or have ever had one of these, you’re probably snickering to yourself right now… (Oy! Six-year-olds!)
Antics aside, what makes Zoe “trouble” is that readers either adore or deplore her. Zoe is the “sage” in the book, and it doesn’t always sit so well with every reader that here you get a freak-show cast of grownups flitting about all willy-nilly trying to figure out their lives, and at the center of it all is this diminutive, beyond-precocious child, this insanely polarizing figure, sitting back with her nose in a book and making sense of everything for them all. I LOVE HER! Others, not so much. For some people: “It’s just not realistic! Why should this child be smarter than anyone else! Why should she have all the answers! I just don’t buy it.”
And then for others, well, others can’t get enough of her. “It’s really so realistic! Children are smarter than adults in many ways, of course! They see the world more purely! From the mouths of babes!”
The thing is, I do now have two children. And I KNOW they are smarter than me, and also smarter than most all the other adults I know. I also know that I didn’t pull Zoe out of the the air. She’s based on a now-woman (oy!) who used to be six once, and when she was six, I swear she was just like Zoe. In fact, she’s the one who named most of the characters in the book. (True story. A good bit of advice you won’t hear too often: If you’re stuck on characters’ names, ask a six-year-old. They know!)
If you’ve read Rita Hayworth’s Shoes, you know the whole book is meant to be a little over the top (and if you haven’t yet, hey, why don’t you!), and that’s all thanks to the secondary cast. And for me, this is exactly what makes writing and reading fun. You can pin all the struggle and the strife on the protagonist, lay the foundation, if you will, the framework of the house of the story. And then you get to paint and embellish and really decorate the joint with the rest of the cast! For me, the brighter the colors, the crazier the flourishes, the more fun there is to be had by all!
I’m not alone in this. Consider the Governor in Carl Hiaasen’s books. The Emperor in Christopher Moore’s. Think of every romantic comedy you’ve ever seen starring Joan Cusack as “the best girlfriend” and you see it’s true. Secondary characters are where the quirk is. They steal scenes and they steal hearts. Like Zoe. (You know, unless you hate her.)
Probably the only thing that’s similar between The Girl, the Gold Tooth & Everything and Rita Hayworth’s Shoes is that each is jam-packed with a colorful secondary cast… And probably many of my new characters are just as polarizing as my Zoe! There’s an eccentric octogenarian, a rock-star new age preacher, a mysterious Russian stalker, a ghetto fabulous best girlfriend… Without these characters, there would still be a story, sure. Of course you could get by without them, like you could live in house that was simply a plain white box. But hey! Why would you want to do that?
So who are some of your favorite Secondary Characters? Please leave me a comment and share your favorites with me!