Thursday, 28 February 2013

Series Characters

I never set out to write a series character. When I started my first novel “Eye Contact” I told the story I wanted to tell, about a serial killer who chooses his victims at random, and the detective who hunts him. There was no grand design, no long-term plan, and I wrote without any restriction. Only when I was asked to do a second and a third book, did I begin to see the benefits and challenges of going back to an already established world.

For me, the biggest concern was not to write the same book again. In “Knife Edge” both my detective and my killer are returning characters, and it would have been all too easy to let them reprise their actions from the first novel. Yes, they develop and they grow, but such a course would have felt like treading water, and I wanted to go somewhere new.

So I shook things up. A pivotal event changes each of the principal characters’ lives and irrevocably alters the dynamic between them, while an additional narrative viewpoint promotes a third character from a supporting role to centre stage. As part of a series, it was easier to do this because these felt like real people and I knew them so well, but it also imposed restrictions on me – I couldn’t alter my characters to fit the plot, I had to let the plot grow from my characters.

With hindsight, I could have made things easier on myself, but at least I’ve tried to learn from the experience. At the end of “Knife Edge”, I tidied up a number of loose ends, and opened some doors ready for book three. I have no doubt that I’ll continue to be tripped up by innocuous things, that I’ll yearn to go back in time and give my detective a brother, or change where someone grew up. But that’s the real challenge of a series character – it may be a long story, divided into novel-sized episodes, but once each episode is in print, there’s no changing it! Just like real-life, it’s done and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Think that sounds like fun? Ask me again in a few books time, and I’ll tell you how well I did!

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