Series Characters


Please join me in giving a warm Murderati welcome to Carolyn Haines, the author of the Sarah Booth Delaney Mississippi Delta Mysteries from St. Martin’s Minotaur. GREEDY BONES, her newest book, will be released July 7.
See you next week,

Readers frequently fall in love with a character and want to know more about him or her, and it’s the same for authors. Having written both standalone and series characters, I find great joy—and sometimes sorrow—in both types of books.

One of the real pleasures of writing a series is the ability to see the characters grow and change over a lengthy period of time. To get to know them in a multitude of situations. I’m now writing the tenth book in a series, and in that time, my protagonist, Sarah Booth Delaney, has grown up a lot. Not physically, but emotionally. Sarah Booth is an amateur sleuth, but over the past nine years, she’s developed some skills at the profession she fell into by stealing a friend’s dog and ransoming it back (in her defense, she was about to lose her family home, Dahlia House, and she suffers a lot for this betrayal). The dog’s owner, a woman Sarah Booth perceived as somewhat shallow, shows real heart and courage in the books and eventually becomes Sarah Booth’s partner. This isn’t necessarily the kind of change that can occur in the span of a single novel. But in a series, there’s room enough to let this happen naturally.

I’ve spent such a long time with the Zinnia, Mississippi, characters, that they’re like old friends to me. That familiarity is wonderful. Each year, the “friendship” with these characters deepens. They still do things that surprise me—just like real friends—but I know and understand their motivations.

The downside is that throughout the nine finished books, a lot of things have happened, and I am the “keeper” of all the facts about made-up characters and a fictional town. The geography of the town can be troublesome. In prior books I’ve established where the bank, the café, the beauty salon are all located. This “world building” affects every other book. It’s a lot to manage, and with each additional book written and published, it becomes harder and harder. Consider, too, that I do a lot of re-writing, so things are cut—but three years later, I’m not sure what was cut and what was left in. I’ve tried different tactics for handling this, but it’s just plain difficult any way I tackle it.

A writer still has to attend to these world-building details in a single-title book, but there is less to remember. And think of the time that’s passed since THEM BONES first came out—a decade. That’s a long time ago. My brain has only so much space. When new stuff is added, old stuff is pushed out.

Aging the characters is another consideration. Different authors handle this challenge in a variety of ways. In my world of Zinnia, Sarah Booth has aged only eighteen months. She was thirty-three when the series started, and she’s about to turn thirty-five. That creates some difficulties, as you can imagine. I’ve made the choice to include new technology as I learn how to use it (not at a very fast pace, I fear). But some authors keep their character in the same decade the first book took place in. Either choice has benefits and drawbacks.

When reading books, particularly mysteries, do you like growth in the character? Or do you prefer the character to remain somewhat unchanged? What are some of your favorite characters in either mode?


9 thoughts on “Series Characters

  1. j.D. Rhoades

    Welcome, Carolyn!

    I’ve written series and I’ve written a standalone (that everyone keep asking me "is this going to be a new series?") I definitely like to see characters change and evolve, becuase otherwise they get stale. But a series presents the problem of keeping things believable. As a character in one of my series books points out if any real person went through as many violent events that people in mystery series do, they’d go crazy.

  2. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Carolyn, thanks for being here!

    >>>>stealing a friend’s dog and ransoming it back<<<<<<

    This must be a Southern thing. My SO is always joking about doing that with my cats. Diabolical!

  3. karen from mentor

    I’m a Pari fan, but I’m HAPPY to have you guest blog for her.
    (get some rest Pari)

    I own all of the BONES series books.

    I loved the mind/body connection of the healing of the breast lump in Hallowed Bones. It really spoke to my own beliefs. The body has an amazing capacity to heal itself.

    I’m very fond of Sarah Booth, but Tinky could come live with me any day of the week.

    I can understand your dilema in keeping all of the facts straight. I had a thought while reading your comment, which was, why not just reread the books just before writing the next one?

    I know that sounds simple, but then you’d know exactly what we know as readers and notice what was cut out and maybe work something back in that you loved the first time around ….

    I got feedback on my first finished novel on Saturday by someone who was SO involved in the book that a) she wanted to know how much of the next one I had written and b) she was really freaked out that I had left a clue dangling. Because of her comment, I ended up taking the clue out, putting it into the NEXT book and was off and running in a whole new direction that I hadn’t thought of before. I love it when creativity is collaborative.

    Looking forward to reading Greedy Bones. Thanks for the lovely afternoons reading your words.
    Karen Schindler

  4. karen from mentor

    And as a follow up,
    I don’t mind when a character ages slowly. Robert Parker has had great success that way.
    I’m open to Authors doing what they will, the exception to that would be if they write themselves into a corner and then say I have a deadline….so I’ll use aliens or timetravel to get myself out.
    Aging slowly? no problem 🙂

  5. Pari

    It’s so wonderful to have you here at Murderati!

    I’ve only written series characters so far and love it for the reasons you mention. That said, I’ve started a standalone and look forward to that challenge.

    Keeping facts straight about my characters? Nah. I let the readers do it for me <g>.

    And, Karen, thank you! I’ll be back next week.

  6. Lorraine Talbot

    I’ve loved all the Sarah Booth stories, but skipped the last published one cause Sarah left the MS delta area. A major enjoyment of the series for me is the setting – love the horseback rides along the cotton fields with the hound dog.
    I told a friend who was raised in AL about the series, that it was like a whole other world (as opposed to New England where I live) and she agreed.
    I’ll be pleased to find Sarah back in Zinnia with Tinkie and the rest of the gang.
    Lorraine T.

  7. Debbie Schubert

    This post couldn’t be more timely for me. I’m just finishing up the first in a cozy mystery series and I’ve had these thoughts along the way: How do I keep all the clues believable and brought to a conclusion? How will a change of setting in the next book effect the characters? And what about the readers? I finished a stand alone, but brought some of the characters from it into the mystery series. I love watching the same character take on very different situations. Thanks so much for your invaluable insights. I’d love to hear more on this topic!

  8. Dana King

    I like to see characters grow, or at least to evolve. Their cores remain much the same–though they may go through some tough times–but they age (graudally, I hope) and the events around their lives change. Styeve Carella, Dave Robicheaux, and Elvis Cole come to mind right away. I stopped reading the new Robert B. parker books in part because Spenser still handles events the same way, but Parker insists on reminding us he’s a Korean War vet, which makes him in his 70s.

  9. Carolyn

    Great comments. And I have to say, I am so fortunate because so many readers take the time to e-mail me and share their feelings about the series. I’ve read a lot of series, but I’d never written one with such tight-knit characters until the Bones books. In fact, when I was writing THEM BONES, it wasn’t in my head to have a series. I just caught hold of these insane characters and I was off running. Jitty’s wardrobe in the first book was based entirely on what a good friend of mine wore in college (yes, crushed velvet hot pants were HOT then). Debbie doesn’t care that I outed her wardrobe because as she says, "I looked good in them." Ah, time. If only I’d aged 18 months in the past 10 years that would be wonderful.


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