Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Turn and Face the Change

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

When I read this week’s question, I immediately thought – “Change! They should definitely change.”

This was immediately followed by  - “Actually, not always. Sometimes it’s nice to visit a character that you know won’t throw you for a loop or drag you into some deep emotional angst.”

Then I started to get a headache, so I lay down for a while.  Then Better Call Saul came on, and then it was St. Paddy’ s Day (my people’s High Holiday)

And we take it very seriously.

 and, well, I sort of stopped thinking about it until just now.

So, this should be good.

When I pick up a Miss Marple or a Poirot mystery, I am looking for a very specific kind of read. I want a clever mystery. I want tea and scones and well-mannered people. I want a well-dressed corpse.  I even want a well-dressed murderer. I do not want to read of Miss Marple’s struggles to learn to respect the privacy of others. I do not want to read of the inevitable intervention when her nephew, Raymond, takes away her “bird-watching” glasses. Nor do I want to read about Poirot’s struggles to overcome his OCD tendencies. I’d also rather not see him learn to “open up” and “not keep everything inside” (such as vital clues and solutions). Miss Marple and Poirot are who they are, and we like them that way. (Well, Poirot can start to irritate when he keeps hinting at clues to the case – in French.) 

Maybe this explains why he held everything back

Both series were successful because of that consistency. Dame Agatha wrote during some turbulent times. People want to escape into a well-ordered world where justice prevailed and dressing for dinner was de rigueur.

So, one mark for no change.

Which brings me to the Stephanie Plum series. I loved them until about book 8. Then I found myself rolling my eyes in irritation. It seemed that in every book, her car managed to catch fire and explode, or get shot at. Why did any of her friends even drive with her anymore? Who the hell was her insurance company, anyway? And her constant dithering between Ranger and Joe got old. Fast.

One mark for change

So then I thought about the Fletch series by Gregory Mcdonald. Fletch is a character who definitely changes over time. In the beginning, he’s something of a rebel, an anti-conformist. He poked fun at the stuffiness of society. As he aged, however, he became less edgy. Just like most real people. The problem was, the older Fletch wasn’t nearly as fun to me. Now, I first read those books when I was around 17. I thought it was hysterical that he answered his phone by saying “Good-bye.”  I remember my mom not being as amused as I was. As I got older, I saw her point. Some of his antics were more immature than edgy. That said, it seemed the series faltered over time. Whether it was because Fletch had become a grumpy old man or because of something else, I don’t know. Evolution doesn’t always work.

One mark either way?

My last thought about writing a character that evolves is this - but, I warn you, it’s not terribly helpful or insightful. If you find yourself in an airport needing a book to read, and you go to one of those overpriced stores – here’s what happens. You scan all the books – which, of course, are the current best sellers. Many of these books are part of a series. But, what if you haven’t read the first ten books? Do you really want to pick up a book in which the character is mid-evolution through a struggle you don’t understand because you’ve just met?  I don’t. Especially not on a long flight where you have no legroom, the man next to you wants to tell you about his suspicious mole, and the kid behind you keeps kicking your chair.

Give me Miss “Oh-I-was-just-looking-for-a–bird.  With-these-field-glasses. In-your-living room,” any day.
What magnifying glass? Oh, this one? Well, how did that get there?


Meredith Cole said...

Happy St. Patrick's Day! I totally forgot to wear green yesterday because the holiday seems to have turned into a week of celebration (kind of like Christmas, now that you mention it...). I was in Chicago last week where they dyed the river green.

TracyK said...

They did? Wow. That's a lot of work. I guess we're lucky - the Baltimore Harbor is ALWAYS green.

Susan C Shea said...

Enjoyed this thinking out loud piece. I'd be disoriented if Reacher dropped the news that he was seeing a shrink to understand his refusal to carry a toothbrush!