Friday, August 31, 2012

Reader Friday: What Series Character Do You Love, and Why?

One of our frequent commenters, tjc, offered up a good reader topic for our open forum: What series character do you love? What is it about this character that attracts you? What do you think the secret is of an enduring series character?

Have at it!


  1. Well I'm going to cheat. I know you mean books but I honestly can't recall reading any novels that are series characters (apart from childhood reads).

    I would venture to say Katniss Everdeen is probably a great series character but I haven't read books 2 and 3 because unfortunately, all the hype and analysis surrounding the Hunger Games trilogy has kind've killed the incentive to read the last two.

    So that leaves me with screen series, and for that, the hands down series character is Mr. Spock.

    Above all types of stories, I love buddy stories best. Mr. Spock is the key link in the triumvirate of Kirk, Spock and McCoy. He's unique. He's funny. He's better. Stronger. Faster. And flawed. He's the kind of person I'd want in my corner any day. And I could read about him (and watch him) forever.

  2. Well, this is a hard one for me, cuz I don't read too many series for very long and those I do I like alot. There are multiple answers on this one, and they're not in order of preference. They all came to mind at once for me.

    1. The Sacketts - I know that's not one person, but Louis L'Amour really knew his stuff.

    2. Jonathan Grave - having read all of John Gilstrap's Grave novels and two of them as a contract narration, I feel I know this guy pretty well and would love to have him around if things went poopy on me.

    3. Richard Sharpe - Bernard Cornwell is in my opinion, hands down the best historical fiction series writer of our generation. The Sharpe series was the first of his I read, then saw the BBC movies of the series with Sean Bean and loved it even more.

    4. Martin the Warrior and Matthias Mouse - For that matter the cast of the Redwall series. Brian Jacques is a fine example of the kind of writing I'd love to do if I did kid stuff. Kid stuff that 40-year-olds can really get into that is.

  3. 1) David Robicheaux in James Lee Burke's novels. He was and is a part of the mix that coaxed me toward sobriety.

    2) Spenser, like the poet, from Robert B. Parker and now Ace Atkins. He always says the witty line that I never can come up with until the next morning.

    3) Remo Williams by Warren Murphy. It's the right stuff, condensed into a couple of hundred pages.

    4) Edge by George Gilman, for rhe puns he comes up with at the end of each chapter

  4. Wow, there are so many.
    Growing up it was Ross MacDonald's Lew Archer (I know I'm probably dating myself here). Then it was Clive Cussler's Dirk Pitt.
    More recently I read Robert Crais' Elvis Cole and Joe Pike series, Parker's Jesse Stone, Tess Gerritsen's Rizzoli & Isles and Zoe Sharp's excellent Charlie Fox books.

    As for why, besides the fact that they are excellent written stories, I've always been drawn to the heroic element: that these characters will face overwhelming odds to pursue justice, do the right thing while facing tremendous challanges and be selfless in that pursuit andnot back down despite the personal cost.

  5. Thanks, JSB.
    In my WIP I am struggling to make my protagonist jump up and engage readers. In your very useful "REVISION AND SELF-EDITING" you talk about characters with "grit, wit and it". The make-up that makes for strong characters is easier understood than accomplshed. Examples that work for me:

    1) James Lee Burke's Louisiana detective and family man 'Dave Robicheaux' - Why does this character work so well?? - my thoughts - courage, selfless dedication in an arena that matters, a communicated humility and egalitarian bond to the highest and lowest members of society. His history of pain and damage from his service in Viet Nam and his simmering battle with alcoholism give him both vulnerability and nobility.

    2) An example on the villain side is Nurse Cratchet(?sp) in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's nest. She generates intensely negative feelings for me. Why? My guess is her heartless and controlling nature is shown to override concern for the 'patients''. Her position as a nurse and presumed caregiver makes her cruelty all the worse because she understands the damage her behavior will cause yet revels in it.

    These are just two of so many characters that great authors have created and my guesses as to what makes them work. Harry Bosch, Clete Pucell (a classic), Lucas Davenport, Harry Hole(by Jo Nesbo), Atticus Finch and on and on.

    How can one create such effective characters? I suspect the answer starts with talent but any other tips?
    Thanks much

  6. I got hooked on CS Forester's Hornblower series as a kid. Must have read each book five times or more.

    Later on, Dad turned me onto Richard Sharpe, and then, curse him, O'Brien's Aubrey and Maturin.

  7. Oops, forgot the "why"-- mainly for the historical backdrop, worlds totally foreign to me. I was also attracted to the sailing aspect of the two series, and the fascination with Napoleon in the Sharpe and Hornblower series.

  8. There are so many to choose from. These are some of my favorites:

    - Eve Dallas from JD Robb's In Death series
    - Stephanie Plum from Janet Evanovich
    - Jesse Stone & Spenser from Robert B. Parker
    - Elvis Cole & Joe Pike from Robert Crais
    - Myron Bolitar & his fun-loving sidekick, Winn by Harlan Coben

    I love these characters because they never back down from chasing justice. They're sympathetic and witty, and every time I open a new book, it feels like I'm sitting down with good friends.


  9. I always liked those two guys who drove around in that Corvette back in the 50's on Route 66, which ends at that Santa Monica Pier.

    Why? 'Cause they were the Kings of Cool.

  10. tjc: Here are a few suggestions for you.

    - Do a long voice journal (see pg. 25 of Revision & Self-Editing). Do several pages of this, as many as it takes until the character is talking to you in surprising ways, and with ATTITUDE.

    - Cast the character in your mind. Use a favorite actor as a model. Combine actors if you like. A little Gable, a little Bogart. Whatever you can do to create a NEW persona.

    - Write some heavy backstory for your character. Go to town on this. Create a previous life, then maybe an alternate one. Be specific.

    - Write about the character on a time line. Pick key years (high school, first year of marriage, first job, whatever). Write about that character's life at those times.

    - I use several exercises in my seminars, but one I like is Chair Through the Window. What would cause your character to pick up a chair and throw it through a window? Make up that scene and write it.

    - I don't know if you have Plot & Structure, but pp. 64 - 68 have suggestions for bonding the reader and the character

  11. Hey Jim....yeah, that Vette was nice. Happily, there's a local station out by me that's showing old Route 66's. Well written show. Stirling Silliphant was a big contributor.

    The theme music was ultra cool, too.

  12. For me, it's Matthew Scudder, Jesse Stone, Spenser, Hawk, Jonathan Grave, Kinsey Milhone,Joe
    Leaphorn and Jim Chee, Reacher and Lucas Davenport. And the Sacketts. And Sean Dillon. And Ty Buchanan.

    Why? They're all real, cool, and I want them on my side. I want to know what happenes to them next. They grow, they change, but never where it matters most. You can always count on them.

    Now I just need to creat a character with a little of them all in him...

  13. I'd have to go with Stark/Westlake's Parker. He was created as an irredeemable criminal, yet with a human side that never ventured into mawkish sentimentality. He definitely did NOT have a heart of gold. Very tough to create a character like that and make him sing through numerous novels.

  14. Oh, it's way too hard to choose. Jack Reacher is way up there. Same for Jonathan Grave, and I also love Joe Ledger.

  15. Mike, I also like Parker, for the very reasons you express. He's only the "good guy" in comparison to the worse guys around him.

  16. For me, Detective Inspector John Rebus is the most complex and interesting series character

  17. Here's a related question, what about your own characters? How deeply do you get to know your own people, and do you write about them beyond the primary works?

    I just put up a novella and a couple shorts that flesh out some of my main characters from the past four books with details that had been alluded to in those books. Do you guys & gals do stuff like that? And when you do, do you keep it to yourself or put it up for the world to see?

    BLADE OF HEARTS a novella and three short stories available at Amazon now

  18. Basil,

    I create a extensive background for my main characters, a character sketch of several pages of what they look like, who their parents are, what their childhoods were like, bad things that happened to them, etc., etc. and like Jim suggested I print out photos of actors/actress I envision as my main character to help keep them in mind.

    I keep all that in a loose leaf binder (a bible) that I add to with what happens in each subsequent story. That's all for my eyes only, but with that, in addition to my novel featuring my bounty hunter, Grace deHaviland, I have also written seven short stories and a novella to fill the gap between books, and of course this flesh out each of the main characters as well.
    Big name authors are doing similar things; Gerritsen recently did a short Rizzoli&Isles story, for example and so are others.


  19. Harry Dresden, from Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files, to throw some urban fantasy into this awesome mix of characters.

    Why? Because he's funny and doesn't take himself too seriously, yet Butcher never skimps on the hard emotional stuff. Butcher does an excellent job of "aging" Harry without making him feel old. Stuff that happened in previous books matters in the current book.

    tcj: I really loved your thoughts on what makes a character work, especially the villains. I wouldn't have thought about applying the Grit, Wit, and It towards an antagonist, but it's a brilliant idea. Especially regarding Nurse Ratched. You're right--after just a few pages I hated her with a passion because of the betrayal she represents.

    I don't know if you have JSB's CONFLICT AND SUSPENSE, but I love to use pages 34-44 to make my characters more memorable. Specially, the sections on mining what the character yearns for and their occupation for conflict. When I create characters that are deeply conflicted, they seem to jump off the page immediately (my critique partners also seem to agree).

    JSB: Oooo these suggestions are excellent!

  20. 1) Paul Tallis (The Paul Tallis Series, starting with The Last Exile, E.V. Seymour): One of my favourite thriller characters. A police firearms officer turned unofficial MI5 agent. He has all the skills you’d expect from a thriller hero, but he’s also very much a normal person. He has to think about paying bills, looks after his Mum, he doesn’t kill unless absolutely all other options have been exhausted and when he does kill it actually bothers him and he pays a heavy price.

    2) Richard Bolitho (Bolitho Series, Alexander Kent): Not as famous as other fictional Napoleonic era naval heroes like Jack Aubrey, but my favourite. He’s very much an ordinary man, but also a brilliant tactician and a courageous leader. He’s the sort of leader that I admire, demanding of his men (but also himself,) scrupulously fair, just as willing to listen to the lowliest of cabin boys as the highest of Admirals, even in the later books when he himself has reached flag rank. The sort of person men follow because they want to, not because they have to. He’s willing to take risks, but he’s not going to just throw lives away. Men would follow him into hell itself, because they know that he’s with them and he cares about each and every one of them.

    The more recent novels have focused on his nephew Adam Bolitho and while he’s no Richard Bolitho, he’s still a great character in his own right.

    3) John “Black Jack” Geary (Lost Fleet Series, starting with Dauntless. Jack Campbell): I’ve always found the idea of a fallen hero returning in a people’s darkest hour interesting (the most famous example probably being King Arthur.) Geary is a brilliant take on this style of character, as he’s someone that really doesn’t feel that he is this legendary hero, he’s horrified by some of the things that have been done in his name and he brings with him a lot of military tactics and ideas that are familiar to us, but have been lost to the humans in 100 years of constant war. Another great leader.

  21. So many great characters and series on here! I'm glad someone mentioned Dresden, because I was going to jump in here if somebody hadn't.

    My forte is more YA and MG. Right now I'm reading Scott Westerfield's excellent steampunk version of World War I, because I have to see what happens to Alek and Dylan.

  22. Crais's Elvis Cole & Joe Pike, Connelly's Harry Bosch, Sandford's Lucas Davenport have been some of my favs. So many others too.

    I also follow a quirky protag of Dean Koontz - Odd Thomas. Love this series. Odd is aptly named. A simple hero with a unique sense of humor, a giant sense of loyalty, & understated courage. A 20-something hero for our time.

    In YA, I love Clary from Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instruments series, books that are being made into franchise movies. Clary is a strong independent teen who rises above her years to become what she must for family & friends.

    I also am looking forward to reading Michelle Gagnon's Noa Torson in DON'T TURN AROUND, her teen version of Girl with The Dragon Tattoo series. It was just released this week.

    And I really enjoyed Ilsa Bicks, Ashes series for a post apocalyptic vision of a near future RMP event. Book 2 is coming soon.

  23. Oops. EMP event. Bick's series is YA also.

  24. Thank you Elizabeth and JSB.
    I like the "chair through the window' exercise. If provoked by certain behaviors my protag might throw tthe chair through the window with the offender still on it.

    Ever get the feeling that you have so much of your character and their backstory unrevealed that it leaves you wondering if you've communicated enough for the reader to "know" him/her?
    How much backstory is too much (another issue JSB tackles in his texts)and how important is the intro of the character.

    Today's topic has provided me a few new authors to try out. Thanks.
    An author that creates great characters and is underappreciated in the U.S. is Deon Meyer. He'a a South African that has a number of remarkably compelling characters (e.g. "Tiny" Thobela, Matt Joubert)

    Another question for the mix - how much do physical features and description impact character effectiveness? (perhaps a topic for another day)

  25. Thanks, Jordan! I use Scrivener for my manuscripts, which has a handy feature where each character gets their own virtual index card. So helpful, especially when working on a series where three books in, you have a tough time remembering what color eyes a secondary character has.

  26. Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, hands down my favorite mystery series characters. Otherwise love Harry Dresden and have read all the Richard Sharpe novels (love Sean Bean in BBC series too!). For sheer inventiveness and hilarity I'd also choose Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next. That series is brillant!

  27. I always felt like I was meeting up with an old friend with Clive Cussler's Dirk Pitt in so many of his great action adventure thrillers.