Monday, March 16, 2015

Don't go changing...

In a series, do you prefer a protagonist who changes over time or one who stays the same?

by Meredith Cole

As an author, I try to embrace change and not shy away from it. If a book is going to be one in a series, I like to plot ahead to future stories and think about where the character can go and how they'll develop in future books. It's more interesting to me as a writer to think about the big picture and not just write a book about someone who is stuck at one age or with just one set of problems.

But I realize that I have a different attitude when I'm a reader. I don't mind that Miss Marple never makes it to 90 or that Hercule Poirot is the same book after book. I have actually given up on several series because the author has married off the protagonist, dissolving, in my opinion, the sexual tension and conflict among the characters. Anne Perry's William Monk series is an example of this for me. And I really think it's a bad idea for sleuths to have young children. I start to wonder if someone else should take over the investigation while they are changing diapers. I just finished Michael Connelly's The Drop and I kept wondering how long he was going to leave his teenage daughter home alone... Very distracting.

I certainly don't mean to imply that I don't like it if anything changes from book to book in a series. In fact, I don't like it when every story plot in each book in the series is the same. I find that boring after a while. But Lee Child changes his setting in every story and has a different mystery, but Jack Reacher is always the same one man army. And I'm sure I could think of a million other examples.

I think that readers want consistency between books in a series and like to feel comfortable with the characters. Reading book two or three or beyond can feel like sinking into a soft well-worn easy chair. I guess the trick is making it feel new and familiar at the same time, and that is definitely not easy. But it's definitely worth a try.


Paul D. Marks said...

Good piece, Meredith. I think some authors get into a rut with a character and plots. Or maybe they just have deadlines or they've lost interest in a character after 10 or 20 books. But I think if a character grows from book to book, maybe not in huge ways, but just something, it helps to keep a series and a series character fresh.

Mollie Cox Bryan said...

Great post, Meredith! Personally I get bored with sleuths who don't change over time. I can think of one very successful cozy series in which the female sleuth never seems to change at all. But some readers eat that up, evidently, if sales and popularity are an indicator. I disagree with you about the kids and sleuths--although I DO think if you're going to have children in the stories, you need to have them accounted for so as not to distract your readers. ;-)

Meredith Cole said...

Thanks for coming by to comment Paul and Mollie! To be fair, I also worry when the sleuth has a dog and apparently hasn't been home in 12+ hours to feed and walk it... :) You're right, it can work but it's important that it's not distracting.

Susan C Shea said...

Yes, Meredith, your last comment nails it. When the change distracts the reader, it isn't the right degree or kind of change, and no one wants a pet that isn't being cared for! I feel a few good writers recently have over-embraced their protagonists' need to change, and the results have not worked for the crime plot or the detecting. Good points.