We talked about the definition of a series in Part 1 and then looked at some how-to’s on the business of writing a series in Part 2. Now we talk about creating characters for a series. The rules are not exactly the same as a character who inhabits a single book universe.
Etch the Characters
The film Sweetgrass was released in 2009. It is about the lives of a few thousand sheep. The human family members who herd them are bit players. The movie has been praised for its “aesthetical minimalism.” The sheep are the main actors, and sheep are generally not great conversationalists.
Now, imagine a book without characters. It’s almost impossible, unless you write a characterless tome about the sex-life of the South-Sea Clam.
Harry Bosch, a Michael Connelly creation, is a beautiful example of a well thought out character. While being consistent when it comes to hair and eye color is one part of the creation job, a lot more goes into building charcater
Bosch likes the Blues. He is left-handed. Connelly carefully builds up Bosch’s arsenal of weapons to reflect the reality of the LAPD. Bosch has a problem with authority, maybe because he grew up mostly in a series of orphanages.When it comes to right and wrong, Bosch is relentless. His strings of short lasting relationships tell you a lot about the man. He is not without his demons, and often drinks one glass too many.
Compared to Harry Bosch, Lee Child’s Jack Reacher, appears monochromatic and unrealistic. He fights better, and shoots straighter and quicker. Reacher is the strongest, fastest, everythingest good guy out there. Reacher is just not normal. He can set his internal clock to wake him at 6:34, 9:12 or whatever time, without fail. He listens to music in his head. He trains himself not to be frightened and has abnormally fast reflexes, even at the age of six.
Reacher is superior in every possible way to Bosch, except as a character. Having cut Jack Reacher down to size, we have to admit that he is an extremely popular character. Perhaps it is his philosophical simplicity that attracts people. He knows what is right, and he knows how to bring about right when it is absent.
For a character to be successful, your readers must be able to identify with something in him or her.
If you think of Frodo, LOTR, it is perhaps his weakness and the fact that he is such an unlikely hero that makes the reader identify with him.
Keep a record of the facts
In Robin Hood: Men in Tights, King John has a mole. Sometimes it is on the left side of his face, sometimes on the right-hand side. It keeps on moving about. And, in this comedy, it works perfectly.
Your readers will not enjoy it if facts keep changing. So keep a record of pertinent facts on all the characters and important events.
Combined with this record, you should try to keep in touch with reality. Snow in Bangalore or wild elephants in the forest of modern day Manhattan turns readers off. If you create a city or world, please remember where the coffee-shop you refer to is situated. Your readers will point it out if the shop wanders all over town.
Don’t beat a dead horse
James Bond, the 95 year old secret agent, is over and done with. If you decide to employ a certain extent of realism in your series, stick to it. Do not try to force in one more adventure.
The Aubrey-Maturin series by Patrick O’Brian consists of 20 books and spans the years 1800 to 1815. “In his introduction to The Far Side of the World, the 10th book in the series, O’Brian wrote that if the author ‘had known how many books were to follow the first, he would certainly have started the sequence much earlier’ in real historical time.”
Poor Jack Bauer of 24 is an example of a horse that was beat until long after its death.
Better to create a spin off.
In our next installment of this series, we will look at some common mistakes made when writing a series. As ZenScribe likes to say, Let the mistakes of others become your wisdom!