Talk to Me, Goose: the Power of a Wingman in Fiction

writing supporting characters, writing a wingman, how do I write a convincing protagonist, talk to me goose, how to write authentic characters

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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?

6 Responses to Talk to Me, Goose: the Power of a Wingman in Fiction
  1. Roxanne
    January 10, 2013 | 7:51 am

    I agree that a good wingman brings more dimension to your main character. I especially noticed that when ready Buck’s Landing. Reading this article made me think about some of my problems with a current story I’m working on. My protagonist needs a wingman. Thanks for the reminder, Cam! :)

  2. Mandy
    January 10, 2013 | 8:01 am

    I adore wingmen (and women) in books. So much so, I’m always hoping for another book telling THEIR story. (Or in Judy’s case, a novella about how she and her man got together. Something tells me it was a ride.)

    • Roxanne
      January 10, 2013 | 10:37 am

      Oh Mandy. That’s a good idea. Would be interesting to hear more of Judy’s story. I get attached to secondary characters too, always wanting to know just a little bit more.

  3. Sherri Lackey
    January 10, 2013 | 12:06 pm

    That rings true. I’m enjoying writing the second book in my series right now, and I realize that the main character in my second book has a wingman who doesn’t let her forget her faults for one moment lest she get too high and mighty!

  4. Brianna
    January 11, 2013 | 8:37 pm

    This is awesome. I write secondary characters, but I never really thought of making them a wing man or wing woman.

    • Cameron
      January 12, 2013 | 5:35 am

      There are so many rich opportunities with secondary characters. They really are an incredible tool.