Reader Friday: Characters

Reader Friday: Characters

CharactersJD Robb has just published her 50th “In Death” book. The cast of characters has grown over time, but her two main characters, Eve and Roarke, have anchored every book. Other authors write multiple series featuring different characters, often those who have played secondary roles in previous books.

If you’re writing a series, do you get tired of the characters, or are they old friends? For recurring characters, how do you keep them fresh?

21 thoughts on “Reader Friday: Characters

  1. As a reader, I like continuing characters b/c each new book is a reunion with old friends.

    As a writer, to keep characters fresh in each book, I introduce a major change in their lives that illustrates new facets of their personalities and how they tackle problems. Their reactions to change always reveal something hidden and surprising that I didn’t know about them. If I’m surprised, I hope the reader will be, too.

    • Love it when characters surprise me, too Debbie. I’ve just finished a stand alone, but beta readers are asking if there will be more. Never say never, right?

  2. As an author, I haven’t written enough to have recurring characters…yet. *Note my optimism*…

    As a reader, I love it! I’ve read several novel series and, like Debbie said, it’s like a reunion with friends you haven’t seen for awhile. And I also think that introducing “a major change in their lives” is a brilliant tactic. Who wants to meet an old friend and find out they still act the same as they did in high school? Shudder…

    • Your optimism is a ray of sunshine, Deb. When I finished my first novel, I realized I wasn’t done with those characters and brought them back as h/h in another book (which, although I didn’t know it at the time, was not considered ‘right’ in the romance genre.)

  3. Nora Roberts/JD Robb is one of the most under-rated novelists in publishing. She writes consistently excellent novels yet only her huge fanbase notices her. I shared her small table at a meal at a writer’s conference years ago, and she’s a lovely person, too.

    Some series have what I call Teflon characters. Experience and tragedy slides right off them between books, and they are reset to their original personality in the next book. It works for some types of novels like manly-man adventures/thrillers and the just-the-facts mysteries, but these characters get pretty dang boring for most of us.

    I much prefer an evolving character who grows through a series. The Kate Daniels urban fantasy series by Illona Andrews is an excellent example. Kate starts as a bitter loner who works as a bounty hunter for hire and, through the books, builds a community of friends, family, and frenemies who respect her. Plus, Atlanta filled with monsters and magic is pretty awesome.

    Most of my novels were standalone romances, not series. Sadly, my science fiction adventure novels never took off enough to become a series, and the supernatural suspense series didn’t either. I had enough characters and complex worldbuilding to turn any of them into a long running series. So, my answer to interesting characters is a series-long plot/character evolution in a complex and changing world.

    • Excellent points, Marilynn. I confess I’m a much bigger fan of JD Robb than Nora Roberts, but I love the way her In Death series has shown the growth of ALL the characters, not just Eve and Roarke.

      With indie publishing, there’s still a chance you can turn your “didn’t take off” novels into series. If readers like the characters, they’ll find the books.

  4. Happy Friday, Terry

    Great question! I just published the fifth and final novel in my first series, The Empowered. The characters truly were old friends, especially Mathilda, my lead. The 1st person POV helped me bond with her. What kept it fresh for me is that I always found her interesting, and she grew as the series progressed.

    For me, having an arc helps, though as I writer I’m also intrigued by long running series like Spenser, Stephanie Plum and others where the arcs are less pronounced.

    Having the cast be a found family of sorts can also keep things engaging and interesting, because there’s so much opportunity to have these favorites play off each other.

    • Most of my series are “connected books” but I always enjoy spending time with the old guard as they return in secondary roles after having their time center stage.
      However, my Mapleton Mystery series is a true series, and I’ve had fun watching my protagonist grow from a newbie trying to prove himself to a confident leader. OK, maybe not 100% confident yet–have to leave room for more growth.

  5. My cozy mystery series features co-protagonists who are half-sisters, one a serious, analytical perfectionist, and the other an artsy actress who delights in disguises. I’m enjoying getting to know these two. When I sent the second book out to a few readers, most welcomed “getting together with the old gang again.”

    The first book concentrated on the analytical sister. The second book has a major subplot for the actress.

    In planning the third book, I wanted to avoid simply dumping another huge problem on one of my MCs, so I’ve decided to introduce a new character who may appear only in this one book. The character should be able to carry the reader’s attention and add spice to the story. (There will still be “opportunities for growth” for my protagonists, however.)

    Does this sound like a good strategy?

    • One thing I enjoy about series is the characters, so if you’re introducing a major player, I’d prefer seeing her(?) again in future books.

      I don’t read a lot of cozies, but it seems readers want and accept them to have new problems dumped in their laps in every book.

  6. Jonathan Grave and his team have evolved into being my friends. I enjoy my time with them. While I call it a series, I think of it more as episodic, each written to be a stand-alone, but with Easter eggs for readers who’ve been along for the whole ride. Time kind of stops in their world. In real calendar time, President Tony Darmond would be in the 12th year of his administration. God only knows how long Irene Rivers has been director of the FBI. Venice Alexander’s son, Roman, was thirteen when the first book, NO MERCY, came out in 2009. In my WIP, he just celebrated his 14th birthday.

    That said, after Gail Bonneville was seriously injured in Book #4, she disappeared in Book #5 as she healed, and then made her way back onto the page and the team a bit at a time in subsequent books. She was thrilled when she finally got to get rid of her cane, and now she’s a full-fledged member of the team. As The Doctor said in one of my favorite episodes, time is really a big ball of wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff.

    • ” time is really a big ball of wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff. ”
      By all means! 🙂
      I don’t think I dare have a character get pregnant. Could turn out she’d have the gestation period of an elephant, or maybe a hamster.

  7. As a reader, I love reading returning characters, as long as they stay fresh. There’s one series (which is now a tv series) that I was so in love in the beginning, but the characters became stale and I lost interest. I would recommend the first three of that series in a heartbeat, but the subsequent books (I think she finished around 8, if she’s finished) I couldn’t manage to get through.

    As a writer, in my recent series, I worry that my main character has become The Perils of Pauline, although she’s grown with each book. On the plus side, if I choose to continue the series from here, I can expand her world rather than concentrate on all the bad things that happen to her, personally. In the case of JD Robb, the returning characters face new challenges in their everyday lives, so it’s much easier to write 50 books with the same characters!

    • Finding new conflicts within the confines of a series can be a challenge–you don’t want Cabot Cove/Jessica Fletcher syndrome, which I faced when I set my Mapleton series in a small town.
      Robb’s cast of characters in her In Death series has grown higher than I can count, I fear. But they all change and grow.

  8. I enjoy series characters. I feel that it is a high hurdle for the author of multiple episodes to find something new. Also seems that several series become predictable and therefore, not novel.
    What advice could you offer to writers struggle with series characters?

    • I think other comments here have addressed keeping characters fresh quite well, so I’d suggest going back through the comments. Lucas Davenport has changed jobs, wives, had kids that have been growing up. Harry Bosch has dealt with different career challenges as well as personal ones.
      From my standpoint, seeing what happens “outside the mystery” makes the characters believable and people I want to spend more time with.

  9. I prefer to read series over stand-alones because I like to revisit old friends and see how they’re getting on. I write series for the same reason.

    As Mr. Bell says in one of the Writer’s Digest writing series books on plot, characters are like onions in that they have a lot of beliefs, some superficial and some deep. Characters stay fresh if their opinions about the world and beliefs about themselves change based on their experiences. The most dramatic changes are when characters change their core beliefs about themselves, for example whether they are capable or lovable or good enough. It’s not really possible to do those kinds of changes in every book. But characters also have core beliefs about the external world. Are people generally kind or cruel? Is everything that occurs predetermined by fate? Are their family and friends really the people they think they are? Are miracles real? For me, those kinds of changes in beliefs make the story interesting.

    One of the authors who I think does an astounding job of character change is fantasy author Carol Berg, who wrote the Rai-Kirah series that includes the three books: Transformation, Revelation, and Restoration. She has a large cast of characters, many of whom appear in more than one of the books, and in every book, ALL of the named characters changed. I was stunned. Reading her work helped me get a handle on how to write change for series characters.

  10. Hi Terry – I’m into the fifth book in a based-on-true-crime series that bring in characters from my past life as a cop and coroner. I didn’t have to make these people up – they did that themselves. My detective partner was Harry, a large lady with large hair and an even larger personality. One of my best friends was Sharlene Bate who was an Inspector with Vancouver’s Integrated Homicide Investigation Team (I-HIT). Book 6 will tell when Harry met Sharlene and it wasn’t pretty.

    • It’s always nice when we get real-life inspiration for our characters. Sounds like your job presented a lot of opportunities.

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