Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Character mashups

In the past week on Type M, characters seem to have marched onto centre stage. There have been posts about creating them, describing them, trying to control them, and bringing them back from the dead.

I write three series and so have three separate casts of characters. Readers have their favourites; some only want to read about Inspector Green while others are happy to follow Amanda's adventures. At author events, people are always more interested in discussing characters than plot or setting, the two other pillars of the story. They want to know not only why they acted as they did in the book and what will they do in the next book, but they want to know about my relationship with my characters. Where do they come from, how do I keep track of them, and are they based on real people?

We writers relate to our characters as if they are real people in our lives. They are often on our minds when we should be doing other things like emptying the dishwasher. We argue with them, worry about them, revel in their triumphs and laugh at their follies. It's delightful to discover that readers care about them in the same way.

Because I write more than one series, people also ask me how I keep the characters separate. Do I have to finish with one series and one set of characters before I can start the other? I don't like writing more than one book at a time, mainly because I have to get immersed in the flow of the story and I lose that momentum each time I switch from one to the other. The characters, however, seem to inhabit different rooms or houses in my head, and when I switch books, it feels as if I've walked through a curtain into a different place. The two worlds do not meet.

This brings to another question readers sometimes ask me at author events. Would I ever write a story in which Inspector Green and Amanda Doucette work together. I admit it's fun for about two minutes to contemplate how that would work (badly) and I can see the appeal for readers of watching two smart, strong characters they enjoy duking it out over who would resolve the case first. But purely from a story-telling standpoint, the combination wouldn't work. Both these characters are used to being the centre of attention. They are the heroes of the piece, and making them work as an ensemble would fundamentally alter not only their characters but also the style of the story. I'm pretty sure one of them would be forced into a subordinate role, and although the ensuing sparks might be entertaining, I don't think it suits either of their characters. I don't think I'd enjoy the experience, and ultimately, I don't think readers would either.

Another reason it wouldn't work is that in an ensemble story, the members of the team typically complement each other. One funny and the other serious. One impulsive and the other cautious. This is the reason why sidekicks are almost always a contrast to the hero. The story just feels balanced and right this way. Green and Doucette are not a complementary team. They are both alphas, too similar to provide balance in the story.

But the main reason I think it wouldn't work is that I'm not sure I could tear down the curtain that separates the two worlds, and walk freely from Inspector Green's world to Amanda's.

I'm interested to know whether any of the writers have thought of doing this with their series leads and whether readers think the idea would work. Thoughts, anyone?

No comments: