I was recently asked if I had any insights into creating and maintaining series characters . In this blog we have discussed the advantages and disadvantages of writing a series vs stand-alone novels. Many successful novelists will have a popular series or two interspersed with stand-alones. This keeps the old brain juices flowing. I wonder if the reason is my series is a success isn’t because I’ve managed to create appealing characters which readers enjoy visiting again and again.
I have many recurring characters in the Alafair Tucker mysteries, and in each book, I bring different characters and combinations of characters to the fore. I find that this gives me lots of material to work with, and many different ways to approach a story. My protagonist, Alafair Tucker, has her own baggage to deal with, but generally she is the eye of the storm - the calm presence and voice of reason. Alafair has ten children, all of whom are very different. Each book features a different kid, who gets involved with a murder in some fashion, and needs his mother to help him out.
I'm working on the fifth book in my series, and by this time I know each and every recurring character like I know my own family members. (Better. My characters don't generally hide what they're thinking.) When you create new characters, either for a series or a stand-alone, you may feel a bit like God, making people behave like this or that and causing all sorts of unpleasant things to happen to them. But no matter how much you think you’re in control, eventually some miracle happens and the characters develop wills of their own and don't listen to you any more. I think this is not an uncommon experience for writers. After a while, you can't force characters to respond to the action in the way you want them to any more than you could force a real person to do what you want. When this happens, you know you've succeeded. If your character behaves like a living person, then your readers are going to care about her like they would a living person.
After using the same characters in several books, I now no longer shape their behavior to fit the circumstances. I create a circumstance, drop the characters into it, and stand back to see how they handle it. Graham Greene, author of The Quiet Man, The Comedians, and Our Man in Havana, among others, said that "there comes a time when your character does something you wouldn't have thought of. When that happens, you know he's alive, and you leave him to it."