Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Character is Destiny

Creating a story is more than moving through plot points to reach a satisfying conclusion. Readers also want to connect with the developing characters, which is why I believe serial stories maintain such a grip on us.

When I’m involved in a series, I’m scanning mystery magazines and author newsletters looking for upcoming release dates and then penciling them onto my calendar wish list. This behavior isn’t new, and I’m not alone. In 1841, when Charles Dickens published The Old Curiosity Shop as a weekly serial novel, his New York fans stormed the wharf when the steamship bearing the final installment arrived, shouting: “What happened to Nell?” from the dock.

Once a year I re-read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to revisit The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson and I rip through Dorothy L. Sayer’s Lord Peter Wimsey novels. I’m delighted whenever a secondary character pops up with a surprising bit of narrative exposition. Who doesn’t adore hearing an update from Irene Adler or even more dithering banter from the Honorable Freddy Arbuthnot?

If I need a touch of Florida noir, I reach for John D. MacDonald and Travis McGee. Louise Penny and her Chief Inspector Gamache magically transport me to Quebec and The Three Pines community. Edith Maxwell’s Rose Carroll and her Quaker Midwife Mysteries warm me with an historical perspective, and when I crave a hometown dose of rural Pennsylvania I touch base with WWK’s own Annette Dashofy’s Zoe Chambers and Police Chief Pete Adams. These characters are my staunchly reliable fictional friends.

True, plot twists and surprise reveals are fun, but character development can satisfy your soul, especially in these days of Covid-19 social distancing. Online Zoom birthday parties and happy hour congregations are all well and good, but I’ve been missing the personal element, the lunchtime get-togethers with my family and friends. To fill this temporary gap, I’m using my cancelled conference registration fee money to buy more books.

What new series and/or characters can you recommend, and why?


Art Taylor said...

So true, Martha! I've thought the same particularly about Margaret Maron's Deborah Knott books.

Martha Reed said...

Hi, Art! Great to hear from you. I think your On the Road with Del & Louise would fit the serial story category and it's in my TBR stack!

Grace Topping said...

Thanks, Martha. You've raised an excellent point. That probably accounts for why some characters and books stay with us long after we've read them.

carla said...

Did you say "buy more books"? I must follow these instructions! IMMEDIATELY!!!

Martha Reed said...

I rarely have trouble buying more books! You should see my bookshelves (and the stack of TBR hidden under the dining room table)...

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

Eagerly anticipating the new Martin Walker Bruno, Chief of Police book. Life in the Dordogne could be simple: hunting truffles, drinking local wine, caving, eating local cheeses...but Bruno is always mired in a local crime with frequent national or international repercussions and/or dating back to WW2 and the Occupation. Pure escape, grounded in reality.

Art Taylor said...

Thanks, Martha! Hope you enjoy!

E. B. Davis said...

Oh, there are so many series that I follow mainly for the characters. I love Deborah Crombie's husband/wife team, Charlotte MacLeod's Peter Shandy and his neighbors, Sue Ann Jaffarian's characters in all of her series, Jess Lourey's Mira James, Leigh Perry's Skeleton family, etc. I could go on and on.

A larger book budget--what a concept!

KM Rockwood said...

Writing series characters is fun, too. It's like visiting old familiar friends.

Martha Reed said...

Thanks for the recommendation, Margaret. I'll add it to my list. I need some escape!

And E.B., Sue Ann Jaffarian always makes me laugh. And it's not a larger book budget, but it is negotiable.

KM, agreed. There's something soothing in world building, even if it involves murder.

Shari Randall said...

Oh, to have a bigger book budget! I love revisiting old series friends like Kinsey Milhone, Mrs. Pollifax, and Vicky Bliss. You're so right about delighting in secondary characters - now I want to revisit Melrose Plant and his dragon aunt from the Martha Grimes stories!

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