Friday, August 21, 2009
Aging Series Characters by Chester Campbell
The age of your character could become a problem if you’re writing a series. The best known current series character is Robert B. Parker’s Spenser. Since I don’t have the early Spenser books, I’m not too sure how old he was when he started out, but it was at least mid-twenties. The Godwulf Manuscript was published in 1974 and the 2009 model, The Professional, will appear later this year.
With thirty-seven books in as many years, that would make the wisecracking, rough-and-tumble private detective almost sixty years old. He’s pretty agile for that age, but I’ll go along with it. My new protagonist, Sid Chance, is fifty-nine in the first book, The Surest Poison. He’s physically big and tosses a couple of guys off the porch.
Lee Child’s rugged Jack Reacher should be mid-forties in the thirteenth book, Gone Tomorrow. He would have been around thirty when he got out of the Army six months before Killing Floor chronicled his first brush with the law and the world of bad guys. Who knows how long he’ll be able to continue his superhuman escapades in wiping out a host of nasties in each book.
Sue Grafton took a different tack in dealing with her smart and headstrong PI, Kinsey Milhone. Since A Is for Alibi came out in 1983, there have been twenty-one books, including U Is for Undertow, due for publication later this year. As far as I know, Kinsey is still in her thirties. I believe the books are set in the seventies, before cell phones and DNA and a lot of other forensic stuff. It works well for Kinsey as she ages slowly.
When I wrote Secret of the Scroll, published in 2002, I didn’t have writing a series in mind. I liked the characters, though, and decided to keep them around. But age was a problem. Greg McKenzie was sixty-five. I didn’t plan on him tackling the villains like a football player, but I wanted him to be a physical challenge. The Sue Grafton method seemed like a good solution.
Designed to Kill took place a year later. Since then, the stories have been separated by three or four-month intervals. Book two was set in November, Deadly Illusions the following March, The Marathon Murders in August. The fifth book, now underway, takes place in December of the same year. So in Greg and Jill McKenzie time, it’s still 2004.
How do you feel about aging characters? Should they follow the calendar, or take their own sweet time?