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October 9, 2013

            I was on the verge of doing another article on authors I like when I thought of author Michael Slade. That’s a pseudonym for what used to be a group of authors spearheaded by one Jay Clarke. He’s a hoser from the Great White North (a Canadian, and technically, we Americans are the hosers). I loved his dark thrillers, at least the early ones. They involved a special section of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police called Special X. They took on some real sick characters. After the first one or two novels, Jay took over the series completely, and later added the help of his daughter, Rebecca (at least that’s the way I think it went down).

            I loved reading each one and used to haunt the bookstores waiting for the next installment. Slade had a habit of growing his characters with each release. There’s nothing wrong with that. The problem with this bunch of characters is that they either tended to die or lose body parts. By the fourth or fifth book, the main characters were either dead or wearing multiple prosthetics. Too many more stories and any survivors either wouldn’t have any natural limbs left or would be unable to function in some other way. I lost interest in the series when in the last one I read, he became so overbearing with background info, I titled my review “The Hitler Channel.” After that, I still might’ve tried another one but it never made it to the local bookstores.

Lots of authors grow their characters. It’s a natural thing. In any series, you can’t have someone go through a myriad of adventures and not age, or progress and have them be realistic. The key is to do it so the person remains interesting and likable, not mundane or a cliché.

Another of my favorite authors, Clive Cussler, took his Dirk Pitt character, aged him and gave him a son and daughter. He advanced Dirk to director of the agency he worked for, and made his boss the Vice President. Dirk is less involved in the adventures while his son and daughter have taken up the baton. A lot of readers didn’t like this progression. Clive kept Dirk in the mix for some of the action, but since he’s aged considerably, how realistic can it be for a gray-haired middle-aged guy to be gallivanting around beating up the bad guys?

In the case of my Gold series, Detach progresses, but at a microscopic pace. I don’t want to write myself into a corner where he ages himself right out of a job. If I want to keep going beyond a few books, I need to make him advance in years very slow. That means the time span of each story needs to be carefully planned so I don’t have one take place over a year or several years. If your adventures add up to forty years but the character has only aged five or ten, you have a math problem!

When you progress a character, make sure you don’t write yourself into a trap you can’t get out of. Don’t, for instance, give them a lot of baggage that will get in the way of the great plot you come up with for the next one. Be very careful to parse this stuff out and think it through.

I’ve seen plenty of series ruined because the authors have progressed their characters right out of the series. What attracted me to the series in the first place is no longer there. They’ve written themselves into a trap where they can’t continue the series with the same spark, the same charm that attracted their audience.

Some writers grow their characters so their audience won’t get bored with cookie cutter characters and plot. Sure, doing the same book over and over again will get boring. Changing the character too much can also lose the original reason the reader liked them in the first place. Make the changes slow so the series will last.

The other side of the coin is if you have no intention of making the series last. Your plan may be limited to begin with. If that’s the case, your character can grow right out of the series after several books and you’re off to something else. I prefer longer series I can come back to. After all, there were over seventy Doc Savage novels. Then again, I have a longer attention span that most people! I can’t be the only one…

Happy writing.

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