Friday, July 18, 2008

The Thing About Continued Characters . . .

See the wolf? Know who the wolf is? Know why the wolf is there? Did he dress himself or did he have help? Do we even care about the wolf? Or that sheep that seems to be leading the pack? Flock? Herd? Whatever?

I'm reading my first book in what is not a series, but also is not a stand-alone. It's a book (as far as I can tell) that is simply another story featuring a specific character. You know what I'm talking about . . . "A Miss Marple Mystery" kind of thing.

The problem is I didn't start with the first book for this character and this story doesn't give me much in the way of character identification. I'm about half-way through and I'm still not sure I care about the female protagonist, even though I know I should.

The danger of writing a continued character is that I would have to risk a new reader feeling a little blasé about the story, or boring faithful readers who've been with me from the beginning. I'm not sure how you find that kind of balance.

As a reader, I want to know about that danged wolf. He looks like the bad guy, but maybe it's the Evil Sheep who are trying to get even with everyone who ever enjoyed a lamb chop. That guy leading the sheep might be the ringleader I need to be looking out for.

Or it could be that someone with two legs has been poisoning the sheep and they've recruited the wolf for a little muscle.

But too much information (backstory) stops the real story and everyone who knows everything about the wolf from the last book gets frustrated.

See what I mean?

John Sandford does it very well. His Prey series is excellent and you can pick up any book any time and be there. Maybe I need to dissect one of his novels a bit and see if I can find the solution.

Still reading Dead Famous and although it's a well-written story, I'm struggling a bit with Mallory.

It's all better with friends.


  1. I'm a bit ignorant about this subject but I find it interesting. What is the difference between a continued character and a series? Is it just in how the character develops from book to book?

  2. Great question, Mary!

    Although characters continue in a series (unless they get killed of, LOL), a series eventually ends. A common length for a series is 3 books, but often they are more.

    There's usually one over-arching theme. For example, Terri Blackstock did a series of books about all electronic and computerized things suddenly stopping. No planes, no cars, no lights, no water . . . even the doors at the local Wal Mart don't open. The books were about how people come together (or not) in the face of this phenomena.

    Colleen Coble and Brandilyn Collins have each written several series, even briefly co-mingling their characters from one to another. Very cool.

    A continuing character, like Agatha Christy's Miss Marple, or Hercule Poirot, show up in book after book that don't necessarily have a common theme--other than solving a murder, of course.

    The problem I'm having with this book is that so far, I can't get a feel for the continuing character, Kathy Mallory. I'm beginning to think a few brief reminders in the first couple of pages would be forgiven by long-time readers and appreciated by the new guys.

    I hope this helps.