Friday, July 25, 2014
Today's question: What is the main challenge of writing a series character and how do you handle it?
There seems to be a trio of main challenges with writing a series character: first is keeping the characters and setting fresh and not writing the same conflicts and same behaviours over and over again, Secondly, the main character has to change and grow as a result of what has happened in previous books and yet, still be the same person that readers care about. The third challenge is providing enough back story about pre-book history and what has happened in the series without giving away any plot 'secrets' or smothering the reader in an info dump.
Never mind! It's all fun.
The main challenge is to avoid tilling old soil and boring both your readers and yourself. If you feel you are telling the same old story, it’s time to throw a spanner into the works. Shake up your sleuth’s personal life, change the supporting cast, or change the setting. I’ve done all these over the course of the Inspector Green series. A new baby, an aging parent, or a divorce are all challenges that add to stress and reveal different facets of your sleuth’s character, as well as adding to his humanity. Adding a new boss or sidekick, killing one off, or giving the supporting characters their own crises also greatly enriches the series. As writers we become as attached to our supporting cast as readers do, so give us reasons to care and worry about them. Changing the setting is very freeing; it provides new challenges and alters the type of story you are telling. My Nahanni story is not a police procedural with Green as the master of deduction; it is about Green the desperate father coping with unfamiliar and terrifying wilderness.
The main concern is trying to keep the series fresh so that the reader, and the writer, don't turn off and get bored. However, I think it might be even a bigger challenge keeping the writer excited. One way is to develop the main character into someone who is real. And, as a real person encounters difficulties in day to day life, and hopefully grows from working these out, so too the main character in the series will. To me, Lizzie Turner, my main gal and one of the instigators of the book club, has become real. When having a cup of espresso in the morning, I'll often think about what she might be doing at that point. When a friend is trying to work through a problem, it affects me. And so, I worry about Lizzie and hope she'll find a solution when she's faced with the same. But of course, here I get to step in and solve it for her. If I keep Lizzie alive and fresh and evolving, I'll stay interested, and hopefully, so will the reader.