Mar 25, 2015

Jason's Guest Post

The Secondary Characters in a YA Novel

Writers often obsess over making their protagonist as good as possible. As they should! It’s arguably impossible to have a great novel without a great protagonist.

But I think sometimes writers hone in on their protagonist to a degree that they overlook the importance of excellent secondary characters.

My novel Grift follows a crew of orphaned teenage con artists. Piper, the main character, masquerades as a prostitute to con rich men. Unlike the others, she must split her time between hustling and raising her younger sister Sophie. Disaster strikes when Sophie gets kidnapped by the mafia, and the crew must rally to piece together the ransom money before the clock runs out.     

Grift is Piper’s story. It’s told from her perspective, and she’s definitely the strongest character. But the supporting characters provide a colorful cast of interesting, deep, flawed individuals.

Here are some profiles I wrote to ensure I was building a worthy cast of characters around Piper:

Max: A master con artist. Brilliant. Understands people. Entrepreneurial. Money-hungry. A few years one side or the other of 50. Inviting eyes. A contagious laugh. A mentor to Piper, Jesse, Rob, Mars, and Kim. More than just a mentor, he has served as a father figure to Piper.

Jesse: Piper’s best friend. Specializes in the long-con. Max sends him on deeper jobs that require longer-term deception. Jesse loses himself in the jobs, comparable in a sense to some method actor getting lost in a role. Jesse and Piper have become best friends, but it’s clear that a deeper connection exists between the pair. Ultimately, Jesse fears he will hurt Piper, and in an effort to protect her, he tries to avoid a romantic relationship. Part of his character arc includes becoming able to see the things in himself that Piper sees in him.

He has an electrifying quality. People are drawn to him. Strangers. Friends. Family members. On his own, he used that magnetic quality to deceive people. But Max has taught him how to deceive people and take their money in the process. Jesse has a shortage of interests and passions. He lacks a philosophical viewpoint and ultimately a sense of self. Why he’s drawn to pretending to be other people.

His character is partially inspired by Frank Abagnale.

Rob:  A 17-year-old pickpocket from New York. A former sleight of hand magician who started using his quick hands to steal. Rob is a thrill-seeker, whether it’s skydiving or a doing a risky con. Rob’s comfort with risk becomes Max’s discomfort with Rob.

More than the other runaways/orphans, Rob is particularly damaged. His adoptive mother died when he was nine, and her boyfriend (who Rob thought of as his stepfather) became his legal guardian. Rob was physically, sexually, and emotionally abused by his stepfather. This caused him to run away at age 15. His happy-go-lucky attitude is partially a front and partially a shield. The thrills he pursues act as an escape.

Kim: A hacker and card-counting genius. Was kicked out of MIT. Kim grew up in New Orleans and learned to play poker and blackjack aboard riverboat casinos. Her real name is Katrina, which became an unfortunate name post 2005. The rest of the crew doesn’t know how old she is. Maybe 17. Maybe 23.

Of Vegas’s 72 casinos, most of them have barred her from playing blackjack. Counting cards isn’t illegal. But the casinos can refuse service to anyone, which mostly refers to anyone counting cards. The casinos all use facial recognition software, and their security teams share a database. Thus getting kicked out of one casino for counting cards pretty much bans you from all of them. However, on numerous occasions Kim hacked into their systems and erased her file. It was a cycle. They caught her. She got banned. She erased the file. She counted cards.

Mars: An 18-year-old pool shark from Texas. Aspires to be a professional pool player more than a professional grifter. His desire to avoid participating in cons constantly pits him against Max. Mars’s father is about to be paroled from doing ten years for armed robbery in Texas. Feeling shame over his father only contributes to Mars’s desire to make an honest living.

Mars has a truly platonic friendship with Piper. And being more mentally and emotionally stable than either Rob or Jesse, Mars naturally falls into the role of uncle to Sophie.

His character is partially inspired by the Mars Callahan independent film Poolhall Junkies.

Sophie: Piper’s 14-year-old half sister. Just starting to develop that teenage angst. Says whatever a lot. Being homeschooled by Piper. She’s in the equivalent of eighth grade. Sophie adds a level of responsibility to Piper’s life. Everything the Piper attempts – and more importantly everything that Piper risks – has this added element of consequence given that Piper is Sophie’s guardian. Sophie’s character provides the high stakes for Piper at the outset of the novel, in the sense that Piper pulls her grifts to provide a life for her sister. But as the book takes off into a thriller, Sophie literally becomes what’s at stake when she gets kidnapped.

Charlie Moses: The powerful, desperate head of the Las Vegas mafia. He’s the one who kidnaps Sophie in order to get a huge ransom out of Max. Nearly everybody doing anything illegal on a large scale in Vegas pays Charlie a fee, and he keeps them out of trouble. This includes Max. Charlie Moses has relationships with politicians, cops, lawyers, and even judges. Basically, if it goes through Vegas, it goes through Charlie.

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Author Bio:   
Jason Mosberg lives in Los Angeles where he works as a screenwriter. He has optioned several feature screenplays to independent financiers. He wrote his first novel   Grift while staying in cheap hotel rooms in Las Vegas. When he’s not writing, Jason can be found playing soccer, walking, and over analyzing everything.Having grown up in Delaware, Jason attended Wake Forest University before he lit out for the west coast. His top five TV shows of all time are The Wire, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Six Feet Under, and Twin Peaks. His one vice is claw machines. On the book side, he is represented by Andrea Somberg at Harvey Klinger.