To change or not to change a series character

evil-days-hpI love series characters. They’re like friends you haven’t seen in a while and can’t wait to catch up with. And now that my own books are coming out in print, I’m starting to see them a little differently. Rather than just letting them take their courses as I write them, I’m giving a little more thought to the process of how they evolve. It’s interesting.

I’ve read series characters most of my life and still tend to favor a good series over a standalone novel. But not every series is a good series and that raises a flag for me. I write two series and I want readers to consider both of them good.

One character that I find engaging is fairly new to me – Clare Fergusson, the protagonist in Julia Spencer-Fleming’s series. She was different from the outset and that intrigued me, and I especially like the examination of her conflict in the on-off love relationship with married Russ van Alstyne and her clergy position. Julia does an excellent job of balancing the two without sacrificing realism. I understand that the next book will have Clare taking that step into a milestone moment. We all have them throughout our lives, but they’re not always so clearly defined – those events that we face that irrevocably change us. Whether chosen or not, sometimes we cross lines that can’t be uncrossed. That’s a real challenge for a writer and must be handled carefully.

For instance, one of my favorite characters is Stephanie Plum, Janet Evanovich’s brainchild. I love the Plum novels and they offer great comic relief. We don’t 19coverharddelve too deeply into Stephanie’s psyche, we just go along for the ride. However, after a while (how many books?) the back and forth between Ranger and Morelli gets a little tired and finally, one day, Stephanie crossed that line with Ranger and can never go back. It all happened so fast, if you blink you might’ve missed it and we’re back to the status quo (is she with Morelli this book or not?). Almost. But loyal fans know, somewhere in the back of their minds, that she did the deed. Can we ever really look at her the same way again? Do we really believe if Ranger is, well…Ranger, that she’s still not sure what she wants? She didn’t lose me. I’ll still buy number 20. And 21. And whatever. But I don’t feel quite the same anticipation for the release date I used to feel.

fantasy-in-death-by-j-d-robb1Another character I find fascinating is J.D. Robb’s Eve Dallas. I would love to have been a fly on Robb’s office wall when she was writing those first couple of books. Where did she see them going? Her prolific output aside (and yes, I know all the arguments but I’m not going there), Eve is consistent, and yet there is growth. You don’t realize it with the volume, but go back to one of those first books when Eve and Roarke aren’t married yet. There’s change. And yet, you can read 10 or 11 books in sequence and only cover a year in time with little notable change in Eve, Roarke, or Somerset. But wait, there is change, you just find it in Peabody, and McNab, in Mavis and the birth of little Bella. Only Eve, Roarke and Somerset seem to stay the same.  It’s food for thought.

I also love the character of Alex Cross, although author James Patterson isn’t that popular among the writing crowd. I appreciate the way we seem to start at the beginning and see Alex experience Maria’s death. He moves on of necessity but clambers his way from one relationship to kill alex crossanother, trying to be there for his children and Nana Mama. When he finds Christine, we think maybe he’s found true love, but over the next several books we see him transverse an emotional (and sometimes physical) obstacle course. Even the “after Christine” episodes ring painfully true as he fights for custody of little Ali and the horrors that populate his job. I find it interesting (and perhaps telling about myself) that while I was bedridden several years ago, I went back to the beginning of the series and read through it again. With all the hideous crimes and emotional angst, it was still a vacation for me, of sorts. Again, like visiting old friends (which is considerably easier when you know how it will end) and taking a break from your own life.

takenMy favorite characters of all time, at least for now, would have to be Elvis Cole and Joe Pike as presented by Robert Crais. They’ve definitely influenced my writing and my approach to character construction, for which I’m eternally grateful. Cole has experienced a myriad of changes from beginning to end, but is still in many ways the same.

I hope I take enough from these and others to help me create characters in Shari Markham and Jesse Morgan that will be appealing enough for readers to want to see what happens next. I hope they’ll save my books and re-read them as time goes by.

What characters have most influenced you? What do you like and not like to see as far as character growth goes?

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7 Comments

  1. Nice blog post, PJ. I love reading series, too, for the same reason. If I like a character she/he becomes a friend and I look forward to the next installment to find out what new is doing on in their lives. I believe characters should change during the series for them to be real. I love Stephanie Plum as well, but stopped reading after number 15. Although still entertaining, nothing new happened in Stephanie’s life. I mean, how long can Rex the hamster and Grandma Mazur live. But Evanovich is a best-selling author, so who am I to say. I also read Elizabeth Peters, Martha Grimes, and Ann Perry. Their characters lives’ change and evolve over time, which strengthens the integrity of the novels.

    • out of “Elizabeth Peters, Martha Grimes, and Ann Perry” who would you recommend a new reader to all three … to start with? and which book in the series (the beginning or a particular book?)? Thanks! oxox ~rs

  2. I have to laugh at myself because I know it’s just fiction and I know they’re just imaginary characters, but . . When Elizabeth George’s Inspector Lynley started the affair with his supervisor after Helen’s death, I wanted to jump into the pages and smack some sense into him.

  3. LOL Exactly Carolyn! It seems we share similar feelings with Kathleen too. They do become like friends.

  4. I have only read a stand-alone by Robert Crais, but I have read the other series you mentioned in varying amounts. What an excellent post–makes me think about character development from the side of the reader and understand all the preparation that goes into making them likeable enough to follow book through book through… Thanks for writing this and sharing!


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