Rewards and Challenges of Writing a Series Character by
Leonard Goldberg

The rewards of having an ongoing series character are obvious. To begin with, the writer is intimately familiar with the protagonist and knows in detail his/her physical features, strengths, flaws, likes, dislikes, personality and emotional makeup. These are given qualities that are unlikely to change, and in fact neither the reader nor writer want them to change. Why try to create a new leading character when you already have one that captivates the reader over and over from novel to novel? Put another way, when the writer has a fully developed protagonist that sells tons of books, the easiest and most profitable path is to stick with his character and concentrate on the plot. And the lead characters can be incredibly heroic (Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan) or evil (Thomas Harris’ Hannibal Lecter), as long as they fascinate the reader and give the reader an almost insatiable desire to devour books featuring the recurrent protagonist. So the rewards of having a series character are: 1) There is no need to create and develop a new leading character. The writer already has one that he knows extremely well. All that’s needed is to have the plot revolve around the character and present him/her with new problems, obstacles, and victims; 2) The writer has a built-in audience. Readers are obviously enthralled by the protagonist since he/she appears in book after book which the publisher would only print if they had continued to sell well; and 3) It’s profitable. Books with recurrent leading characters are almost always big sellers, so the royalty checks are quite substantial.

So what, if any, are the challenges of having a series character? Believe it or not, there are disadvantages. First, the writer can become glued to the recurrent protagonist. The publisher will demand that your novels have the same lead character because he or she sells books. If you have new ideas for a lead character, you have to put them on hold, unless you already have a huge audience (Michael Connelly in the Harry Bosch series) and somehow come up with another fascinating protagonist (Michael Connelly in the Mickey Haller series). Another challenge of having a series character is that your audience may grow tired of the same protagonist. Maybe the writer begins to tell the same story over and over, and the lead character responds in all-too-familiar fashion. I know of several authors whose recurrent protagonist seemed to die out after three or four novels, primarily because of the sameness in their later books. And finally, there would be an almost unthinkable third challenge of having a series character. The author may actually tire of the protagonist. Enough!, the writer yells to himself, now wearied and bored with the character and series despite phenomenal book sales. Would you like an example of this? Try Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, the greatest and most popular fictional detective of all time. Doyle became famous, wealthy, and was knighted because of his Sherlock Holmes creation. But he also grew weary of Sherlock Holmes and decided to kill him off in The Final Problem. The public outcry was so immense that Doyle had to bring Holmes back to life in The Adventures of the Empty House. There is surely not a writer alive who does not envy Arthur Conan Doyle, whose Sherlock Holmes was so beloved by the public that they forced him to revive Sherlock from his watery grave.

So the reader can see from my brief article that there are rewards and challenges in having a series character. All things considered, I’m certain virtually every writer would tell you that the rewards far outweigh the challenges.

Plague ShipLeonard Goldberg is a USA Today bestselling novelist whose medical thriller Plague Ship  was published on October 8th.









Leave a Reply