Wicked Wednesday – Keeping Series Characters Evolving

It’s Wicked Wednesday, when we all weigh in on a topic. This month, we’re focusing on craft, so naturally we’re starting the conversation with characters. Since we all write series, we’re constantly thinking about creating interesting, three-dimensional, continuously evolving characters. Today we’re sharing some of the ways we do that.

Liz: I’m constantly thinking about Stan’s evolution as I get deeper into the Pawsitively Organic series. It’s been so interesting to see her come alive from the original sketch I created for my proposal. Now, three books later, I’m watching her become a different person as she settles into her new life. She’s learning how to think outside of the structured environment in which she spent most of her adult life. She’s learning how to deal with a relationship that’s much more than a convenience thing. And she’s forced to explore a complicated relationship with her mother that she’s ignored for a long time. To get to the heart of why she’s doing certain things, I try to keep in mind what her motivation would be for everything – what makes sense based on who she is. And a lot of times, we’re discovering that together so it’s a fun process.

Edith: I hope Cam is evolving in the Local Foods Mysteries! I know readers have reportedsnowonhoophouse that they like her evolving relationships,  and she’s certainly learning a lot about farming, at which she was a novice half a year before the series started. In the third book, Farmed and Dangerous, which takes place during a snowy January, she finds the strength to do a couple of things she thought she’d never have to (sorry, can’t reveal more or I’d spoil the plot!). Probably the main way she’s changing is getting out of her social isolation as a software engineer and learning how to be comfortable with people, which she has to do as a farmer. But what Liz says is true – we have to always keep the character’s motivation in mind.

Barb: Such a timely question for me as I work on my proposal for the next three books in the Maine Clambake Mystery series. In Clammed Up, Julia Snowden returns to the Maine harbor town of her birth to spend the summer leading the charge to save her family’s ailing clambake business. Complications ensue. She’s in love with a guy who will never follow her back to New York. What to do? It’s important to me that Julia keeps evolving, and that we don’t get stuck in this will-she-or-won’t-she relationship forever. After all, she’s thirty, not fifteen, and adults either do or they don’t. So the next three books will have a different question at their heart. And as soon as I know what it is, (and it gets the go-ahead from my editor), I’ll let you know!

Sherry: One of the story lines in the Sarah Winston Garage Sale Series is Sarah learning to live on her own. She married at nineteen and then at thirty-eight is divorced in Tagged for Death. She has to support herself for the first time too. She also lives across the country from her family so emotional support through a difficult time is another issue.

Jessie: The overall character arc for Dani, the protagonist in the Sugar Grove series involves her being taken more seriously by her family, her community and even by herself. In each of the books Dani grows herself as she grows her business. Little by little she is putting her own stamp on what has been a family endeavor and she gets stronger with each passing book.

I like creating growth situations for some of the supporting characters too, like Dani’s mother and sister. I think it makes for a richer story and I have a lot of fun exploring how Dani’s changes prompt some of theirs as well.

Readers: Have you seen the characters in the Wicked Cozys’ books evolve? What about in other series you love? Do you stop reading if the protagonist never changes?

8 Thoughts

  1. Two words: Stephanie Plum. I quit after reading the second book. Obviously plenty of people are happy with the series just the way it is.

    My favorite positive example (as I’ve said many times) is Dorothy L. Sayers’ series with Lord Peter and Harriet–Peter goes from being a silly twit to a fully realized and even flawed character, and the evolutionary process is worth studying for any writer (after you’ve read the books once for the pleasure of it).

  2. Character evolution is key for me, even within a standalone but especially in a series. I cannot watch a character do the same stupid things over, and over, and over. That may be why I never got into Stephanie Plum – too static.I love the line “adults either do or they don’t.” I face a similar balancing act in my own stories – keep the relationship tension without drawing it into “oh come on already!”

  3. I also only read two Stephanie Plum books. I loved the first but was bored by the second.

    On the other hand, I keep reading Laura Levine’s Jaine Austen series and Joanne Fluke’s Hannah Swensen series. In the first, the characters don’t seem to change, but I laugh so hard I don’t care. Maybe that’s my Stephanie Plum. In the second, the evolution that started in the series seems to have stalled at this point.

    However, I do enjoy it when a character changes for the better. It can be hard to remember exactly what a character was like when it has been a few months to a year between reading books, but when an author tries, I do appreciate it.

    The only Wicked Cozy author I’ve read two books from (so far) is Barb, but I did definitely notice it in that series. Need to correct that with the rest of you.

  4. Excellent topic! I agree with other commenters that Stephanie Plum started out as an engaging heroine but never really evolved — or even moved past the same love triangle. The series eventually lost my interest. I’m making a mental note to read Dorothy Sayers as well as the authors featured in this post.

  5. There has been one series that I follow consistently where I wish the character would evolve more quickly. I understand the author wants to write about a specific time period but it seems as though the character is stuck in an emotional time warp and her experiences don’t move beyond a three mile radius of her adolescent baggage. But I keep reading and hoping. The series will end soon so there is still time to see the character in full bloom.

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