Sunday, June 17, 2012
The Three Rs of Book Series Characters: Recycle, Reuse, Resurrect
One of the decisions that the author of a series has to make is whether or not to recycle your secondary characters through subsequent books. For green-thinking authors, recycle, reuse, and resurrect is a natural answer to this question. If you've already invented Joe and Mary, why start over from scratch the next time? You already know what they look like, what they sound like, and a little bit about their character. Who knows, there may be a few Joe and Mary groupies out there who will buy your next book because they want to know whether Joe got his promised promotion at work or whether Mary's unborn child from the previous book turned out to be a boy or a girl. Maybe Mary can work her way up the literary food chain to star in her own novel some day.
On the other hand, recycled characters can easily become boring as they make their guest appearances in subsequent books. They really need to be there to advance the story, not just to pad out the book length by introducing extraneous subplots centered on them. And if they do show up, readers expect the author to peel away a few more layers of the onion so we get to know them better, in more depth, in each succeeding appearance. Several months ago I did a guest interview for Pat Bertram's blog from the point of view of the character Eduardo Gomez, a Paraguayan policeman who had appeared in my second novel, The Ambivalent Corpse. In that interview, Eduardo indicated that he wanted to play a bigger part in subsequent books. He gets a chance to do this in my newest novel, due later this summer, The Matador Murder. And we get a chance to know him better. There are still some things we don't really know about him----maybe we'll be seeing more of him in books to come?
Vincent Romero from The Surreal Killer gets a short mention about his new career in The Matador Murder, but doesn't rise to the status of a character. It looks like he'll play a much bigger role in the still untitled fifth book in the series. It seems that when I wasn't looking too closely Vincent moved up to Los Angeles, where he now works for Roger's growing detective agency, supplying bodyguard services to the stars and potentially some spooky stuff in the future.
I think we also might want to do more with Bruce the nanny in a future book; we'll see.
Another big decision is whether our characters should age with the series or whether Peter Pan rules apply, as in Sue Grafton's Kinsey Milhone alphabet series. I think we'll keep them all young for a while, but that too can change as their infant son Robert grows up. I have a friend and colleague who is urging me to write a murder novel set in a modern Medical School and base my characters on several of our more colorful colleagues. Maybe this one should wait until after I retire????
When I started graduate school at The University of Wisconsin several of the older students in the laboratory were into target shooting and plinking with handguns. We had a regular trip out to the Madison garbage dump to shoot rats, which were a pretty challenging target when they were running. I kept the hobby, at least the target shooting and plinking, for a long time after, and know a lot about handguns. Thus far, neither Roger nor Suzanne has carried a gun nor needed one. If we leave South America and get them into a case at home, this might have to change.
Decisions, decisions, decisions.....suggestions would be most welcome in the comments.