Don’t tell Jack, but I enjoy writing Ketch’s character as much as I do Jack’s character. Ketch is one of those secondary characters who sneak up on a writer. They come on the scene in a small part but demand more attention, more scenes, more words, more exploration. Kind of like how girls are always attracted to the bad boys, I was attracted to Ketch.
Jack and Ketch grew up in essentially the same place–Jack in London and Ketch across the Thames in Southwark, a disreputable town, as it has been described. Ketch, however, is older than Jack and their paths never crossed until they were both pirates many years far removed from their youths in England.
The two men are as different as night is to day, but as the story progresses they find themselves inextricably and begrudgingly linked. Certainly not something I planned. Ketch’s first loyalty was to James Logan, whom he sailed under. Logan and his men rescued Ketch from Spanish captors, and Logan’s wife nursed him from the brink of death back to life. Ketch’s subsequent devotion to her governs most of his motivations throughout the story. Logan uses Ketch as his muscle, his right-hand man in any unpleasant business, including his dealings with Logan’s business partner, Ezra Archer, as illustrated in this excerpt from The Prodigal:
Ketch’s brown gaze was lost somewhere on the shoreline, his hat offering little shade to his tanned, pockmarked face with its close-cropped beard that hid the worst of the scarring. An unreadable face with unreadable eyes. Logan could gauge most men, but Ketch was an anomaly. Logan, however, didn’t often waste his time trying to get inside of Ketch’s head; the man’s emotions and motivations meant little to him…all he required was his loyalty and brutal qualities. Whenever he visited Archer for something business-related…Logan liked to take Ketch with him. Ezra Archer had the same aversion to Ketch and his reputation as all others, and Logan always felt satisfaction in knowing Ketch’s mere presence gave him a certain added invincibility in Archer’s shrewd eyes.
I often left Ketch ambiguous to the reader; not until farther into the story does the reader really get a sense of where Ketch is coming from. Then, when he finally gets his own point of view as part of the narrative, the reader learns of Ketch’s past and is better able to understand the man’s motivations…and to perhaps come to like him.
What is his first name, you ask, since I’ve yet to mention it? Ketch didn’t arrive with a first name. I knew he had one, of course, but I waited for him to tell me and then to show me why he had been reluctant to reveal it, let alone have it used by others. I enjoy that aspect of Ketch, the way he makes me work to peel back layers. In fact, one aspect of his life left me with a big question, one that I wanted to explore, and when I did I found myself with an entire separate novel. Separate, yes, but still connected to Jack Mallory and his story. Something I expected to write simply for my own enjoyment and with the conjecture in length to equate perhaps a novella expanded into a full length novel called The Driver’s Wife. But that needs to be discussed in its own post some other time.
What secondary characters have you come across in your reading life that you found yourself drawn to as much or more than the protagonist? I’m sure readers of the Harry Potter books could say they actually enjoy Ron or some other character as much or more than Harry. Is this a flaw of the writer or a strength of the secondary character?