Tuesday, June 26, 2018

The ‘Maverick Friend’ As a Plot Device

By Bonnie Randall

Part of the How They Do It Series (Monthly Contributor)

If you have watched Harlan Coben’s Safe or The Five, you are familiar with the ‘Maverick Friend’, a character employed within many of Coben’s mysteries. The Maverick Friend is often someone who is ‘situationally ethical’; the virtues they have are often buried beneath the shocking things they do…or are what propel the wicked things they do. Maverick Friends are not the stories’ villains, yet they cheat, steal, lie, drink, use dope, sleep around, and sometimes even commit murder.

The Maverick Friend is often used as the character who can employ the vigilante-type violence a plot may require when such a resolution, if affected by the main protagonist, would be unbecoming, unacceptable, unbelievable, or would derail the story’s HEA. In my novel Divinity & the Python, it was crucial that neither my heroine nor my hero become killers, yet my villain needed to die. Enter my heroine’s ‘Maverick Friend’ who was, without HEA-derailing consequences, able to inflict the final act of violence that stopped evil in its tracks.

A relationship with a Maverick Friend is not for the faint of heart—yet protagonists are often paired with these pals. So what purpose can such characters serve, aside from being the persons from whose shoulders the plot can safely fire the gun without dire repercussions for any of the main characters in the story?

A Maverick Friend can:

Add a layer of internal tension to the conflict(s) the protagonist is facing. 

In The Five, lawyer Mark is on a quest to find his long-ago missing brother when suddenly his buddy Slade retains his services after being picked up for a murder Mark knows full-well he committed. This places Mark in a moral quandary, adds a complication to the plot, and raises the stakes in terms of illustrating all Mark is willing to do in order to solve the mystery.

Exemplify qualities like loyalty and fidelity in the hero(ines). 

Whether a Maverick Friend has done the wrong thing for the right reason, or has simply given in to appetites over logic, the fact that the hero stands by him says more about the main character than it says about the Maverick—and because loyalty is a virtue we universally admire, the illustration of this fidelity thus galvanizes our own devotion to the hero/heroine as well.

Gives an edge to a character who otherwise might be just too much of a Mary Sue. 

Sarah Addison Allen does this really well in The Girl Who Chased The Moon; virtuous Julia lives with wine-soaked, man-crazy Stella, and their friendship affords a few layers to stiff-necked Julia that we might not otherwise see: with Stella she is tolerant, compassionate, and not without a sense of humor…all of which make her more relatable to the reader.

But, by the same token, the Maverick Friend…

Can help define the protagonist’s own moral short-comings as well—and their Hero’s Journey to enlightenment. 

Lindsay Faye’s Timothy Wilde (who debuts in her historical mystery The Gods of Gotham) is a principled man. A very principled man. Enter Tim’s brother, the morphine-addicted, liquor-drenched, sexually indiscriminate Valentine, and we see Tim become offended to such a degree that he simply cannot see past Val’s debauchery. If Valentine does anything it must be bad—right? On the flipside, those whom Tim admires must only be capable of good…correct? Tim’s crisis of faith, and the course he needs to navigate in order to solve the mystery, demand his radical acceptance that good people can do wicked things—all while also believing that wicked people are capable of remarkably virtuous things.

What a concept.

And with that I’ll turn it over to you. Do you have examples of the ‘Maverick Friend’ from your own work or that of others? Can you see other lucrative ways this character can be employed?

Bonnie Randall Bonnie Randall is a Canadian writer who lives between her two favorite places—the Jasper Rocky Mountains and the City of Champions: Edmonton, Alberta. A clinical counselor who scribbles fiction in notebooks whenever her day job allows, Bonnie is fascinated by the relationships people develop—or covet—with both the known and unknown, the romantic and the arcane.

Her novel Divinity & The Python, a paranormal romantic thriller, was inspired by a cold day in Edmonton when the exhaust rising in the downtown core appeared to be the buildings, releasing their souls.

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About Divinity & The Python

Bonnie Randall Divinity and the Python
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