Monday, January 22, 2007

How do authors build up a series character over time?

I've just finished A Second Hand, David Owen's second of four novels about Franz Heineken, the entertaining, gruff and thorough Tasmania police inspector known to himself and one special colleague as "Pufferfish." (I'd read Books 3 and 4 before I read 1 and 2.)

Comments on the novel will likely follow, but for now, a remark on a small piece of character-assembly, and a question for readers of this blog. Heineken, the first-person narrator of the novels as well as their protagonist, tells us in Pig's Head, the first in the series, that he got his start as a constable in the Netherlands. Why, asks Heineken in that book, would a then-young police officer pull up stakes and make his way to distant Australia? "Not now, not now," he says in answer to his own rhetorical question.

In A Second Hand, he tells us why, and it's a dramatic story, to say the least. Did Owen have this harsh biographical detail in mind when he wrote the first novel? Or was the "Not now, not now" a challenge for the author, a way of forcing himself to come up in the second book with an explanation interesting enough to meet the tease in the first?

I have no idea, but I pose this question to you: Think of a character who plays a significant part in more than one novel you've read. What details did the author add in the later book or books to deepen the character, to make him or her more complex or just to keep the character from going stale? Is it a surprising biographical detail, as in A Second Hand? Perhaps it's something like the side-splittingly funny supporting roles Bill James gives to Detective Chief Inspector Colin Harpur's daughters in the middle and later books of his Harpur and Iles series. Maybe it's a dramatic life event. It can be anything that answers this question:

How does the character grow or change in ways that keep him or her interesting and alive?

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

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2 Comments:

Blogger Debi said...

Good question. My series have several characters. And sometimes (quite often actually) you don't have all the answers but once the character's been created you have to let them get on with their lives and accept that they might not give up all their secrets in one go - even to you, their creator.

It's part of what keeps it fresh and exciting (hopefully).

February 02, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

Thanks. That accords with what I've read and with what makes sense to me: that authors leave themselves opportunities to build upon characters in later books. I once read some advice that authors be vague about the number of siblings their characters have, for example, so an unexpected brother or sister can materialize and drive the plot in a subsequent book.

Owen's opening was an unusually explicit tease or promise of future revelations or adventures.

February 02, 2007  

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