I have just run into the sort of trouble authors of a series of novels involving the same characters in the same location might watch out for.
Currently I’m writing number 4 of my Parker Daniels’ crime stories. I’ve got a local newspaper reporter, Ed Steiger of the Holford Evening Transcript. I myself worked on the Holyoke Evening Transcript, but there is little true stuff thrown into the novels, with the possible exception of the lesbian Transcript reporter in the Summer Stock Murders.
The trouble came while working on the fourth draft of the new novel. In it I am changing my approach. It is full of farce. One comic character is Hapless Jones, the North Holford reporter for the Holford Evening Transcript. But regular readers will know that this position is held by Ed Steiger, the nephew of the Major and a terribly serious person. At first I simply took Ed Steiger and made him incredibly stupid. But whatever I did, Ed Steiger wouldn’t do in farce. So there has to be an entirely new character, Hapless Jones, a comic fool. To be fair to Ed Steiger, I got him a job on the Boston Evening Lightning or perhaps the New York Daily Jolt. These characters are real to me and unless they murder someone or get themselves murdered I treat them just swell.
I want to write 6 Parker Daniel’s Casebooks. I picked 6 because that was the number of Philip Marlowe novels Raymond Chandler wrote. Restricting your sleuths to something under 10 crime novels stops readers from becoming bored by the character. Conan Doyle wrote 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories but only 4 novels.
As much as I love Agatha Christie I cannot stand Hercule Poirot on TV. P.D James ‘tec, Dalgleish, in God knows how many crime novels since his debut in the 1960s, in Cover Her Face, becomes extremely tired; or maybe it’s the reader who became tired.
Ruth Rendell’s country copper, Wexford, appeared in a select humber of her books. She didn’t overdo it. Her trouble with Wexford is that he suddenly, for no reason at all, started to get very familiar with French literature. Then he seemed able to speak some Chinese.
I don’t think novelists should be blamed for being inconstant. But readers don’t like mistakes.
A friend of mine, a hotshot book reviewer, went completely off Martin Amis when I told him that rug is a wig; Amis, throughout his much praised bestseller Money, keeps going on about his main character’s natural hair as his rug.
What I do like is a novelist suddenly dropping out of character. For example there is the comic line about “collecting petticoats for the portly poor.”
You might think this is from Pickwick Papers. But no, it is the great E.M.Forster.