Start your character when he's young and relatively innocent. He'll accumulate scars even faster than you will - let him have a mostly clean slate on which to accumulate them. You'll find exceptions to this rule on the shelves - series characters who debuted as older men or women. But these old characters - both Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot come to mind - don't age or change. They're set pieces who go about the business of resolving their stories, but they never surprise. If you've read one Miss Marple mystery, you've pretty much read them all. (And I've pretty much read
Mugging the Muse: Writing Fiction for Love and Money
them all, and the Hercule Poirot books, too.) Agatha Christie seemed content enough writing characters who never changed . . . but I can't think of anyone now who's doing that successfully.
Two writers whose characters started young and grew come immediately to mind, though. The first is Robert B. Parker, who created and still writes the enduring character Spenser. We first met Spenser as a brash young man with some polish as a boxer and a knack for getting himself into ugly situations. He's now pushing the high end of middle age, with the creaking joints and heavy past of someone who has truly lived his life. He's a marvelous character, and I imagine Robert B. Parker still enjoys sitting down and writing Spenser novels . . . because Spenser can, and frequently does, surprise you.
The second writer who has done something wonderful with a series character is Lawrence Block. Block writes a couple of different series, and his light Bernie Rhodenbarr mysteries are a blast . . . but his dark Matt Scudder mysteries are brilliant. We first meet Matt Scudder as a heavy-drinking ex-cop who accidentally shot and killed a kid while on duty, and who abandoned his family for a lot of sad reasons. Over the course of many books, we watch Scudder grow up, come to terms with the mistakes he's made in his life, quit drinking, find real love, and become someone you want to know. He's always someone you care about. And he solves a mean mystery, too.
No matter what genre you want to write in (or even if you want to write mainstream), and no matter whether you're male or female, you owe it to yourself and to your writing to read these books. The Spenser novels and the Matt Scudder novels have something to teach you.
Was this article helpful?