Thursday, May 21, 2009

Continuing Characters in a Series

Here's a problem I've been wrestling with. When you have characters (protagonists) from previous books continuing in a series, how much air time, i.e., ink, do you give them in the current story?

Let's consider the case of historicals, since I read mostly historicals and I write exclusively in that sub-genre. Marriage is the ultimate HEA, the satisfying end required of historicals. But when the current starring couple shows up in future books, their relationship is very happy, very sweet, very thoughtful towards each other...and rather unreal.

If they have realistic problems then resolving them will take focus away from the main protagonists in the current novel whose Journey to HEA we want to read about. But at the same time, if the problems are not solved, then the reader will feel cheated. The trust in their HEA was established in the last book, and the author dare not break it asunder.

So, is the solution to write standalone titles? But readers like to meet couples from previous stories again. They want more time with them, because they like them and want to know that even with the passage of time, their HEA is a sure thing.

Tbat gets me to the story writer's dilemma... How to portray these people? What role should they play in future books without having the gall to be overly treacly?


Christine Wells said...

Keira, I have a few recurring characters in my books but I agree, it's pretty boring to have them there simply playing happy families--although I'm told a lot of readers do enjoy a glimpse of the HEA.

However, IMO, all secondary characters should be there for a reason so that if you took them out you'd have a hole in the book.

They should help show the character of your protagonists and/or move the plot forward--for example, lending a hand with the external plot. Sometimes you might use one of the couple as a confidant for the main characters. In The Dangerous Duke, I brought back Romney and Fanny from Scandal's Daughter. They continue to have a tempestuous marriage after their tempestuous courtship. They are fighting, but thoroughly enjoying themselves and their difficulties are easily resolved, because as a couple they've had their journey already and found the 'magic elixir' that will help them through tough times. That's my idea of a HEA. Not that everything is utterly perfect for ever and ever but that the H/h now have the solid foundation to fall back on when things get tough.

Cara King said...

I will admit that I hate to start a series in the middle and then find out that chapter 9 has twenty pages of all sorts of characters I've never met before all updating the hero on their lives, and interacting in oh-so-darling ways, all with scads of toddlers running around being terribly clever or cutely naughty...

IMHO, if it's a long series, I think I'd prefer if the author just included one or two characters from a previous book.

And even if I've read all the books in a series, I find I often dislike the forced "all the previous characters are such great friends! And so very happy!" thing... :-)

Ah, well, just call me a grump!

San Remo Ave said...

I don't mind returning characters if they're peppered into the story (lightly) and have a purpose for being there. Nothing pulls me out of the story faster than a lengthy visit with a couple/multitude of (now) secondary characters. I think it shortchanges the current couple and their relationship.

I've run into that in the book I'm reading now and I probably skipped 50 pages or more last night because of 2 unnecessary recurring couples. Grr.

Tamara said...

I like it best when the couple has a tendency to bicker. When done right, it shows the same level of comfort as all the lovey-dovey stuff (and oftentimes, the same amount of passion as all the sexy stuff), but it has the added benefit of not being completely unrealistic. Or nauseating.