How I Developed My Series Hero

by James Scott Bell

I’m happy to announce the release of my new Mike Romeo thriller, Romeo’s Hammer. It begins on a posh beach at Malibu, and ends just up the coast at Paradise Cove. In between a lot of stuff happens. (This is called a plot summary).

Today, I thought I’d say a little bit about how I came up with Romeo as my series hero.

I’d long wanted to write about a lone-wolf, hard-boiled seeker of justice. I’ve always loved this famous Raymond Chandler quote about the classic PI:

Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. He is the hero; he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor—by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world.

He will take no man’s money dishonestly and no man’s insolence without a due and dispassionate revenge. He is a lonely man and his pride is that you will treat him as a proud man or be very sorry you ever saw him.

The story is this man’s adventure in search of a hidden truth, and it would be no adventure if it did not happen to a man fit for adventure. If there were enough like him, the world would be a very safe place to live in, without becoming too dull to be worth living in.

But I did not want to do another PI character. I love ’em, but we have enough of them. So I conceived a backstory that would cause a man to be on the run and off the grid. With a changed name. And who spent a number of years as a cage fighter.

What else could I add to make him more interesting for me? I decided to include my love of philosophy. I was nearly a philosophy major in college. But freshman year I was in a big philosophy class, with the smaller classroom discussions taught by a TA. This guy wore sandals and smoked Camels (you could smoke in the classrooms back then). He would take out a fresh cig as he spoke, hold it between two fingers, then strike a match, all while talking. He’d get a faraway look in his eyes as he went off on a metaphysical tangent. We students would watch the match burn down, waiting until it hit his fingers, which it inevitably did, and he’d shake the match vigorously to put it out—still talking! He’d drop the dead match on the floor and begin the process all over again. It always took him 2 – 4 matches to light up.

And I thought, if that’s what I might become as a philosophy major, maybe I ought to try something else.

But I digress. I’ve always loved philosophy and theology and thinking about deep things, especially in times of crisis. Give me Epictetus when things aren’t going my way, or Pascal when reflecting on ultimate truth. I wanted my series hero to be like that. So I made him a genius, a kid who was accepted to Yale at age fourteen. But then bad things happened … and we begin with Mike Romeo in Romeo’s Rules, in the present, with a tattoo on his forearm: Vincit Omnia Veritas. Truth Conquers All Things.

Plus, he likes flowers.

Most of all, though, he has that code Chandler wrote about. And at some point it struck me that I had a model for him in the back of my mind all along.

I was a mere pup when the TV series Have Gun, Will Travel was popular. But the character, Paladin (played by Richard Boone) was cool. (A paladin was a knight known for heroic deeds and the code of chivalry).

Paladin lived in the luxurious Carleton Hotel in San Francisco. There he ate the finest foods, sipped the finest brandy, and escorted the finest women to the opera. He could speak on virtually any subject.

But he was also a gun for hire. He’d go out on jobs, donning his all-black duds and six guns. His holster had a chess knight on it. Ditto his card.

The great thing about this western, unlike, say, Gunsmoke, was that Paladin very rarely shot anyone! Instead, he used his wits to outfox bad guys, or get good guys to do the right thing.

Most of all he lived by his code. One part of that code, which Mike Romeo shares, is that if someone is being bullied, justice demands the paladin step in and stop it. Here’s a clip from an episode of Have Gun, Will Travel. Paladin has just arrived in a town to meet his employer for the first time.

That’s Paladin. And that’s the sort of hero I had in mind when I conceived Mike Romeo.

Which makes writing the series fun for me. Maybe that’s the biggest key of all. You can put your hero through all sorts of tests. You can have him suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. But if he’s not someone you’d like to hang out with, the series can turn into a slog.

Fortunately, Mike Romeo is bringing me joy.

The Romeo’s Hammer is available here:



So….let’s talk series characters. Do you have one? How did you come up with him or her?


Who is your favorite series hero, and why?


26 thoughts on “How I Developed My Series Hero

  1. I’m curious–did Mike Romeo formulate for you before you began writing or did you find you had to do a bit of writing before you had the nuts & bolts of this series character down?

    I have one I’m formulating for a few books but I find I have to write a good bit to get down the fine details of who he is.

    I was actually reminded to download your new release while watching a DVR’d Jeopardy episode yesterday, because one of the questions was asking who the author was for the line ““It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window.” I knew you’d be all over that question. LOL!

    • I’ll take Raymond Chandler for a thousand, Alex!

      BK, for Romeo I did a lot of pre-thinking, knowing I would be doing several books. I wanted to lay good groundwork, knowing that once you get things moving it’s very difficult to go back and add things you wish were there. Also, I wanted an inner arc at was specific about knowing it for at least the first several books.

      But naturally in the writing you discover things and weave them in as you can.

  2. Hi, James. I’m a sucker for any author who references Raymond Chandler, and I enjoy a series because we really get into the main character’s world and see how the dynamics change from book to book.

    I’ve written a British spy thriller series that nods to Raymond Chandler and Harlan Coben. Spy Chaser’s hero, Thomas Bladen, came fully formed during a novel writing summer school. I started with a man, a set of binoculars and a target. And then I started asking questions. He’s the opposite of James Bond; not suave, or sophisticated, and there’s no reset button with each book so the consequences always spill over.

  3. Good morning, Jim.

    I received your notice of the release of Romeo’s Hammer a couple days ago, and am well into the book. I love the series. And Mike Romeo is what makes the reading so enjoyable – especially the internal monologue with his constant philosophy and his critique of the world.

    After reading Larry Brooks books and finding his mention of Nelson DeMille’s John Corey series, I found that I like that series for the same reason. Your series and DeMille’s have taught me that the series hero needs a very interesting internal discussion to accompany the action.

    I’m working on a series character – a wounded warrior so scarred that he returns unrecognized – who will take on the evil that has been imported into our country. My idea came from a son in the Air Force (not enough Air Force series heroes) and a religious leader with a background in Special Ops who could easily have participated in war crimes.

    I hope you keep the Mike Romeo series going. Great reading!

    • I like DeMille’s Corey, too, Steve.

      Interesting …. your series logline has a whiff of Don Pendleton’s Mack Bolan in it. He came back from Vietnam and the evil he confronted was the Mafia. That’s where it started, at least! After 600 novels a few other enemies have entered the logs. Maybe this series will take off!

  4. I have several. They are standing in queue waiting to give me a serious talking to. They are me at different ages in my life. As I was a boring child, my kid shero strikes out on an adventure. As I wasn’t very athletic, one shero wields many weapons. Never being one to play dress up or be into shopping, my serial killer dresses in 1930s retro. There are a few more. I guess they are me and what I’ve dreamed of doing, or not doing. And I am struggling with sending this.

    • Wendy, I’m glad you sent it. Writing a character you can inhabit vicariously seems to me a great way to get connected and find joy in the writing. Works for villains, too! A serial killer in 30s retro already has my interest. Write on.

  5. Your character sounds so interesting – can’t wait to dig into your story and learn more about him. My favorite part of writing is developing characters. The one I’m working on is everything I wished I would’ve been as a twenty-something. She doesn’t take much from anyone ?.

  6. My series character, ER doctor Drake Cody, has a past no physician is allowed to have.
    Similar to Romeo, Drake by nature and history can not tolerate those who victimize others. Working in a busy inner-city emergency room he is exposed to a great many victims and abusers.
    Drake’s fiery make-up and reflexive compulsion to protect others pits him against some of his city’s most cruel and deadly individuals as well as the most powerful elements in healthcare.
    His fearlessness and capacity for violence (borne from his past), combined with his standout medical skills, make him a difference maker for his family, co-workers, patients, and community.
    A recurring philosophical and practical conflict is Drake’s obssession for real justice versus the limited or unjust remedies provided by our imperfect legal system.

    Best of luck with the new release, Jim. It sounds great. Will read!

  7. Most of my heroes aren’t series, as romantic suspense conventions are different. However, my Maplton Mystery series does have the recurring protagonist. I probably should have fleshed him out a little more before starting, but I’m a ‘learn as I go’ writer. I made him a reluctant chief of police, put him in a small town, and threw the first homicide in the town’s collective memory in his lap to test him. One trait I have him was his tenacity–like a dog with a bone, as his girlfriend say. He’ll stand up for what he thinks is right, but he’d still rather be out on the street.
    As the series has progressed, he’s developing more skills and becoming more comfortable in his job. There were 3 POV characters helping carry the load in the first book; 2 in the 2nd, and now he’s on his own (POV-wise)
    I’d call him the protagonist more than the ‘hero,’ because in his small town, he doesn’t run into the same kinds of “bad guy stuff” he would in a big city. I like to hope readers can relate to the way he solves his problems and crimes without having any ‘super powers.’

    • Sort of like Marge Gunderson in Fargo, sounds like. Small town police woman … and when a horrendous crime occurs, she simply goes about her business as usual. A great character.

  8. The main hero for my series does follow Chandler’s code. Originally, he was supposed to be background for a character for a much different series, but he grew on me. I wanted to know more about him, and when I want to know more about a character, I write more about that character. I now have a lot of novels drafted for him. I can’t even remember the previous series anymore, the one he was supposed to be background for.

    My biggest influence was 1970s/80s television. Starsky and Hutch. I Spy. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Battlestar Galactica. A-Team. My character is something of an amalgam of some of my favourite characters in these television shows, but deeper than a TV character can be. He has a lot of strengths, but his biggest weaknesses are psychological. His biggest strength is psychological, too – his stubbornness. Not only does his stubbornness help him to enforce the ethical standards he lives by, but it keeps him alive.

    Thanks for a great topic!

  9. Thank for your post, Sir. It is a provocative and encouraging essay on a subject that keeps coming up for writers, and especially for me. The quote caps it well.

    • Yes, the quote is from his famous essay “The Simple Art of Murder.” It should be read by all writers, preferably with a jazz sax playing in the background.

  10. My main series character came in a discussion with a literary agent at a small conference in Houston. I was talking about a female Jack Reacher-type. She said, “Give me a lawyer who travels around righting wrongs and you’ll have my attention.”

    Even though we didn’t close the deal, Juliana Martin was born on the drive home. Book 1 opens with the FBI raiding the family firm. She is forced into helping the government bring down one of the firm’s clients or they will prosecute her father for a murder he didn’t commit.

    That storyline pries her out of her comfortable life and turns her into a nomad. I was driving my motorhome at the time, I gave Juliana one just like it.

    However, I didn’t see a recurring female character hooking up in every town where she landed. So, enter erstwhile FBI agent Ethan Price who flits in and out of her life, burrowing in a bit deeper into her heart every time. Much to the outrage of outlaw biker Joaquin Fuentes who has made it clear she is welcome on the back of his Harley any time, any place.

    She is honorable and proud and seeks justice. All combined with the arrogance and situational ethics more common in trial lawyers than they like to admit.


  11. I’m working on my first novel and I hope that my MC will be a series. She is a madam in 1871 in a Nevada mining camp. She was trained as a Pinkerton detective. Yes, there were women Pinkerton detectives back then.

  12. Good article, James. I definitely see where you’re coming from. In light of this, perhaps the lead of my last manuscript was defined too much by his circumstances, and not enough by who HE is. I may have some thinking to do!

    • Two of the things I worked on, Louis, were a) what Romeo LACKS that he needs to become complete; and b) what Romeo fears, even though he won’t admit it. A lot of this becomes clearer in each book as I brainstorm what I call “the mirror moment.”

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