We as writers are always looking for ways to add depth and authenticity to our protagonists. You know your main character cold: what they look like, what they crave, how they speak, the quality of their movement. What now? Write them a wingman.
What Is A Wingman?
If Goose and Maverick from Top Gun don’t come to mind, there’s always Ron and Hermione (I’m counting them as a single wingman for my purposes today) to Harry Potter. Cameron to Ferris. Watson to Sherlock.
While in the dating world, a wingman (according to Urban Dictionary) is “a guy you bring along with you on singles outings [...] that helps you out with [...] women. The Wingman will always be there to “occupy” [the] least attractive girl of the pair so that you may engage in the “hotty,” our wingman is a supporting character (a best friend, a partner, even an insightful stranger along for the duration) who helps you flesh out your hero.
Why is A Wingman Important?
A wingman pushes your character, demands more of them than they might be willing to give, calls them on their lies and self-delusions, props them up or consoles them when they fail, assists them on their quest. A wingman can provide comic relief or bring your main character to the cathartic tears they need. They can also function as a plot facilitator, helping the protagonist to be where they need to be for the action to happen.
Writing A Wingman
When I approach a new character, I like to give them a wingman who can both reflect and complement them. In Buck’s Landing, I wrote Sofia a long-lost best friend who pushes her way back into Sofia’s life at the beginning of the story. The two characters have a shared history, but very different memories of that history. Where Sofia is city, Judy is small town. Sofia is wary of romantic entanglements and mostly single, whereas Judy is happily married and playful about love and lust. Judy calls Sofia out on her own fears and the distance she allowed to come between them, but Judy’s also fiercely loyal to her oldest friend. She can say about Sofia what Sofia herself might not even fully understand.
Three times in the story, Judy either brings or accompanies Sofia places which allow her to reconnect with her past and the setting.
This gives Sofia added dimension as a character, and it gives me a creative sideline inside the story.
Last But Not Least: Wingmen Are Fun!
There’s freedom in writing supporting characters. You can play up their qualities, give them any plausible backstory. They can be outrageous, dangerous, quirky, the straight man to your joker, or vice-versa. There’s less pressure on a wingman to be a fully developed character. You don’t have to worry about their narrative arc. I wrote Judy a husband, a house in suburbs, and three kids because I could, without feeling pressure to explain everything about how she got there.
Do you write supporting characters? What are some of your favorite wingmen from books and film?