Monday, October 12, 2009

Consistent Characterization

Sometimes when I read a series of books where they are all tied into the same family or place, I notice that a main character from a previous book doesn't seem as real when put in a secondary role.
It's always disappointing to me that someone I loved becomes such a shadow, as though a secondary character can't be as strong as the current main character.

It's not consistent.

I just finished Julie Lessman's A Passion Denied. This is the third book in her Daughters of Boston series and the heroine is the third sister in the family. There's a scene where all three sisters from the book are together in the kitchen and it made me laugh several times.

Lessman did something I don't usually see. She managed to keep each character strong and original without taking the focus off the main sister of that particular book. Talk about consistency!

Faith was still more serious and prayerful. Charity, hot-headed and sensual. And the heroine a little of both.

Have you written a series? Are all your characters strong, or do you sense that you've weakened some? What's your favorite series of all and who do you think is the strongest character in that series?

45 comments:

Tabitha Bird said...

i imagine that would be a hard thing to do.I haven't written a series, but I see there would be plenty of challenges. Consistency is hard throughout a book, much less several that all link. thanks Jess, good stuff to think about as usual.

Jessica said...

Yeah, I agree that consistency is hard enough in one book.

Jody Hedlund said...

That certainly gives us something to think about in even one book. Are our characters distinct enough from the others that if we put them into another book, they would still be vibrant? Thanks for getting my rusty wheels churning early this morning!

Jody Hedlund said...

P.S. I've been making more writing comments on Facebook. I took your challenge Friday and wrote something!

Jessica said...

Awesome Jody! I'll have to check out what you wrote. :-)
And yeah, that is kind of true about testing the vibrancy of our characters. Great point!

Tamika: said...

That does seem like a challenge! I don't know if a series is in my future, so far I just have two stand alone book premises in my view.

I have read one series that I loved, and the characters never lost their flare. The Left Behind series. I loved every one book.

Blessings to you...

sherrinda said...

Funny you should ask. The ideas for my next project involve a series!!! Contemporary at that. So this post is very timely for me. I have read Julie's books and thought the same thing. She did a great job with the characters, I thought, and kept them true to themselves. Great post!

Kristen Painter said...

I'm writing a series right now and one of the things I've been working on is character consistency.

Wendy @ All in a Day's Thought said...

Haven't written one, but the idea fascinates me. I'm thinking about my favorite....and thinking and thinking.
~ Wendy

Jessica said...

Tamika,
I read most of the Left Behind and they probably did well. It's been a while but I don't remember any huge problems. Great example!

Sherrinda, I'm doing a contemporary series too, so I commiserate. It's fun though. I love all the characters and they sucked me in to telling their stories. LOL That'll probably happen to you too. :-)

Jessica said...

Kristen,
Maybe you'll have some good pointers for us in the future?

No worries Wendy. Mornings aren't good for deep thinking. LOL

Janna Qualman said...

Hmm. If anything, this makes me want to avoid a series. ;)

But I like how you explained it, how if done poorly, the character seems a shadow. Great wordage in the paragraph.

Karen Amanda Hooper said...

Yup mine is a series and my vision is that each book gives you the story and perspective of another character or couple in the book. But it will always center around my main MC. The other characters are strong, but my MC is the one who started it all and if its ever finished, it should finish with her. :)

Favorite series...Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. And of course Jamie is my fav.

Jessica said...

LOL Janna! I didn't mean to make you want to avoid them. But maybe subconsciously I did? Usually I don't care for series books, unless there's a strong hook. Some authors pull series off better than others.

Hi Karen, so you have the same MC in each book. That's a little different than the kind of series I was thinking of. I wish there were different words, or maybe I don't know the right terms? I still haven't read Outlander, but I should!

Donna M. Kohlstrom said...

Haven't written a series, but read several. The ones I enjoy are where the main character still is the prominent one. If I loved the MC in the first book, then bring them on again, not in the background.

Jessica said...

Hi Donna,
Yeah, those are good too. As long as the character arc keeps going and stuff, I like them. :-)

Linda Kage said...

Wow, I don't think I could pin down one favorite series, I love reading so many of them. I've tried writing one though, and it really IS hard to keep the main focus on the h/h of the story AND keep past h/h strong and consistant. I admire all good series authors.

T. Anne said...

I have a YA series an though I'm only on the third book I have found that sharing the spotlight among my 'cast" is very challenging. I try though. I suppose that's what edits are for, right?

Erica Vetsch said...

This would be a difficult thing to manage, esp when the limelight has shifted to another charcter for a subsequent book in the series. I'll have to watch and see how I'm doing with that.

:)

Julie Dao said...

Ooh character consistency is so tricky! It takes a strong author to switch focus to another character without losing sight of the other. I haven't read any series where the main character becomes secondary (I don't think) but hopefully I'll find a skillful author like you did!

Cindy said...

It's hard to pick a favorite series, though I know I've read some that do an excellent job.

I've written a series and the characters repeat appearances frequently in the subsequent books. I hope I did an okay job with this because I loved all the characters. The third in the series was my favorite, though!

Diane said...

I am doing a book series with kids so I think I can keep them strong. Good reminder though to keep my secondary characters interesting and consistent too. :O)

Genny said...

I haven't written a series, and now that I think about it, I haven't even read a series lately. I loved the Left Behind series of books, but that was years ago. :)

Eileen Astels Watson said...

Oh, I hope I've managed to be consistent, but now I wonder. I'll have to go back and check.

Jeanette Levellie said...

Jessie:
I haven't written a series, but I noticed how well Camy Tang keeps her character's personalities intact.

You are so observant and analytical. I am learning from you. Thanks!

Jen

Dara said...

The Mark of the Lion Trilogy. Even though the MC Hadassah isn't in the third book at all, it's clear that she helped influence the direction of Atretes, the MC of the final book.

Heather Sunseri said...

What a great thing for me to think about, Jessica. Perfect timing, too. I hope that I create strong, very individual characters.

Danyelle said...

Great points. It's always interesting to read a series where the main characters in one story are secondary in another. I've written a series of sorts, and they all hopefully retain their original personalities. They change and grow, but have their own distinct voice. There is one character I do need to go in and give more words to, so thank you for the reminder. :)

My favorite character is Morgan of Hed (The Riddle-Master) McKillip does an amazing job with character consistency.

ElanaJ said...

I also think this would be hard. I haven't written a series (yet), but I can see myself being very inconsistent. Heck, sometimes I'm inconsistent from the beginning of my book to the end!

Jennifer Shirk said...

I've never thought about writing a series. I usually get so tired of my characters I need new ones. LOL!

But I can definitely see where it would be a huge challenge to an author.

Amy De Trempe said...

I've written a series (though unpublished and needs a lot of work) but I tried to keep all of the characters strong. Not sure if I accomplished that. Even though the previous hero and heroine have taken the backseat, it doesn't mean they can't be the same people they were before. I think it helps if the stories are written back to back, such as immediately starting the second as soon as you finish the first. This is what I did with all three without editing until I was done. Of course they haven't been submitted yet, and still in the ugly editing process.

Amy De Trempe said...

I've written a series (though unpublished and needs a lot of work) but I tried to keep all of the characters strong. Not sure if I accomplished that. Even though the previous hero and heroine have taken the backseat, it doesn't mean they can't be the same people they were before. I think it helps if the stories are written back to back, such as immediately starting the second as soon as you finish the first. This is what I did with all three without editing until I was done. Of course they haven't been submitted yet, and still in the ugly editing process.

Katie Ganshert said...

I'm writing my first ever series right now. I'm writing my second book (or just starting out) and I'm worried about this very same thing happening. My MC in my first book just doesn't seem as real as she was in the first....interesting dilemma.

Jessica said...

Hi Katie, I have series too so that's why this has been on my mind. Good luck with it! :-)

Amy, you may have a point. I know Lessman wrote her stories back to back.

Jeanette,
After I wrote this post I actually thought of Tang's books. LOL You're right, she kept hers pretty strong too.

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Jess -

I'm writing Book 2 of a series right now. The challenge I'm facing is how to show a strong, can-do guy in a new, confusing, and frightening place in his life, while not turning him into a wimp.

Julie Lessman and Lisa Samson write memorable characters. All of them evoke strong emotions, both positive and negative.

Blessings,
Susan :)

Julie Lessman said...

Jessica, thank you SO much for your kind assessment above!! Consistency is key with me because after all, these characters live and breathe in my brain, so I want to be true to them. :)

And, Karen Amanda Hooper -- Outlander is my favorite series as well. Dear Lord, Jamie is AMAZING, isn't he? I don't generally like men with red hair, but OMIGOSH, Jamie won my heart BIG TIME. The best hero in a book today, in my humble opinion. Yeah, Gabaldon!!

And, Jessica -- it was SO great meeting you at ACFW!! Till next year ...

Hugs,
Julie

Jessie Oliveros said...

Oh, I know what you mean. Actually, those kinds of series always make me a little sad, like the author isn't being faithful to their first true love.

Angie Muresan said...

I have read books like that too, and was really disappointed. Don't know if I'll ever write a series, but most probably not. Can't imagine having that much to say!

Stephanie Faris said...

It is tough. I read Rachel Gibson's series and felt the concept of having a character we'd grown to care about become nothing more than a cameo appearance was a bit of an adjustment. But it's almost better to just have those characters do cameos than be secondary characters throughout the book.

Jill Kemerer said...

One series I really enjoyed was by Eloisa James. It revolved around four sisters and it had a lot of Shakespeare themes. Each sister retained her uniqueness throughout the series. My fave in it is "Much Ado About You."

Jessica said...

Thanks for your comments everyone! I like hearing about new stories.

Julie, thank you for stopping by. I had no clue Jamie was such a hottie. *grin* It was great to meet you. You're a very sweet lady, and you seem like you're a lot of fun. :-)

Nancy said...

Don't know that I'd read a book called A Passion Denied. It sounds rather frustration for the reader. But perhaps not.

I have written a book with a sequel, but not a full series.

My favorite series is the March family starting with Little Women. Jo is obviously the most dominant character.

I also love Narnia and The Lord Of The Rings series.

Jessica said...

LOL Nancy! You're funny. The excitement of romances, imo, is the denied passion/love. :-) I loved Jo too. Wanted to be like her. LOL

Caryn Caldwell said...

Oh, yes. I know exactly what you mean. Sometimes it's like the author is just bringing in old characters to make a cameo appearance to please their readers, but since they haven't been in those characters' heads in so long they just don't ring as true as they did when they had their own books. So disappointing.

Jessica said...

Caryn, you worded it so good. That's what it feels like, a cameo. Thanks for commenting!