In team sports, “bench players” can have immense importance in helping a team get through its season successfully. These are players who are (usually) not as gifted as those who are on the starting unit, but who are called by the coach to come off the bench to provide fresh energy and talent, often at crucial points in a contest. Some of these bench players are so good at this that they eventually become better known than those who play ahead of them.
Most of my novels have bench players, some of them more important than others. In my currently underway story, the fifth book in the Rebecca Series, I had until very recently imagined that Rebecca’s twin brother, Luke (who had the lead role in my fourth novel), would not be brought off the bench at all.
This novel, A Fearful Thing, introduces a new character named Jack McGriff. While he has no romantic involvement with Rebecca – she is a married woman, and he is busy falling in love with another new character, Marie Campbell – many of the action scenes pair Jack with Rebecca, not Marie. It is Jack McGriff who, for example, carries a 9mm Beretta in his shoulder holster, is a former (very large) college football player, and is in position through much of the story to protect Rebecca, should she need protecting.
However, as I approached the two-thirds mark in this novel, I found that only Rebecca’s brother Luke could realistically intervene when Jack McGriff himself falls into desperate straits. Luke, after all, is a former Royal Navy boarding-party leader (an officer who leads British Navy combat teams onto hostile decks, usually fighting in close quarters with fists, knives, and other implements in order to accomplish their assigned mission). There is nothing in Rebecca’s background that would allow her to lead this rescue of Jack and Marie. It has to be someone else.
Luke is the perfect person to call off the bench in this crisis. And so, I have done exactly that. He has flown overnight on a Royal Air Force transport plane and is poised to take whatever action is necessary to rescue the couple from their captors.
I don’t know how common it is for other writers to get well into an action/mystery novel and realize they will need to call into play a character whom they did not expect to use. For me, this is not the first time I have called upon a bench player I did not expect to need, but I doubt it will be the last.