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Recurring Characters in a Series.

Read below the poll for a little discourse on these choices.

Poll #1396440 What you like in a series

What sort of characters do you prefer in series novels?

1. A single recurring character who meets new people each book
2. A small group of recurring characters related to the book's main plot, with new characters, too
3. A small group of recurring characters related to the book's subplots, with new characters, too
4. A small group of characters related to the main plots *and* the subplots, with new characters, too
5. A large mix of recurring characters, with new characters, too
6. Almost all recurring characters--new characters should be at a minimum
7. Series? Hate 'em. Never read 'em
8. Something else I will describe in comments

I'm thinking specifically about series novels--each subsequent book is a self-contained story, although there may be subplots that extend over several books. That's how I'm defining "main plots" and "subplots," too: The main plot starts and ends in that particular book, and matches the genre where the book is categorized. The subplot might start and end in a single book or it might not; it might also be a second genre such as romance or family drama.

The first option, the single recurring character, is pretty much the "Lew Archer" method. Archer a customer hires Archer for a job, Archer does the job. No wives, no ailing father, no shadowy mastermind pulling strings behind the scenes.

The second option is more like Starsky and Hutch. The protagonist(s) have a couple of pals who help them solve their crime, or whatever, and they appear in pretty much every story. Although how Huggy Bear managed to reach the end of the first season without a bullet in the head is beyond me. "What are we doing tonight? Nothin'. Honest, Huggy, we don't have a thing going on tonight. Nope. Not a... Well, okay, I'll trust you just one more time."

The third option is similar to Sue Grafton's alphabet books, where Kinsey Milhone has a new mystery to solve every book, but there's a recurring cast of characters playing out a found-family drama. The "S" book started a romance, and that's when I checked out.

Option (what are we up to?) four is similar to the X-Files. Everyone is tangled up in everyone else's problems, and the plot engine requires the characters to seek out new characters and they're problems.

I just went back and numbered them all. Option five is pretty much Star Trek or Criminal Minds: Lots of recurring characters, lots of new ones.

Option six is a sitcom or prime time soap. The Dresden Files has become more like option six as the books have gone by--most of the characters, heroes and villains, have appeared in previous books.

What do you like?



( 17 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 7th, 2009 08:25 pm (UTC)
ha ha ha ha! I'm OWNING this poll!
May. 8th, 2009 03:34 am (UTC)
What do you mean? Seriously, I don't understand.
May. 8th, 2009 03:40 am (UTC)
really seriously?

I was the first person to click on the poll. Hence, my answer controlled 100% of the answers. Hence, winnage. I won. I controlled it. I owned it. For, like 2 minutes.
May. 8th, 2009 03:24 pm (UTC)
Ah. I guess I'm dense this week.
May. 7th, 2009 08:31 pm (UTC)
I can't stand the first option, it's so isolated and cheap. And I also can't stand books where characters are thrown in because they were in the first.

A lot of romance series do this where the new couple sits down to dinner with all the couples from prev books -- it's boring, confusing and a waste of time because there is not conflict and no motivation(because everyone already got what they wanted in the prev novels. And that was luuurve)

I go with the X files option. Really, I don't care if a character shows up in a series as long as they a) belong/are important to the plot or character developement or some shit and b) are interesting and c) don't fill up a page with the same unimportant backstory that's used, cut-n-paste, in every book in the series.

May. 7th, 2009 08:49 pm (UTC)
I happen to love the Lew Archer books. But my editor has asked for recurring characters. It's true that I've been stashing some away (translation: they survived to the end of the book) but I'm not sure I ready for an actual cast.
May. 12th, 2009 08:45 pm (UTC)
I think it's harder to write if you're like "oh, crap, I have to work this guy in too."
May. 13th, 2009 05:40 am (UTC)
It also messes up the whole Joe-Bob Briggs "Anybody can die at any moment" tone I tried to bring.
May. 14th, 2009 03:02 am (UTC)
yeah, you're screwed.
May. 7th, 2009 08:55 pm (UTC)
I like your middle cluster, but that is if there is an arcing plot, a roman fleuve. I get bored if no one changes.
May. 8th, 2009 03:32 am (UTC)
How they change matters, too. I tore through the middle run of Grafton's alphabet novels, because the subplot had the protagonist negotiating a connection to estranged family--so many cousins and aunts, and so much bad history.

I loved it, and I was dying to see how it would turn out. But it was dropped mid-run in favor of her elderly landlord's social life and a romantic plot with a police detective who's a former hairdresser (!). He's also rich from his time as a software developer(!!!).

I had a hard time with that.

Strike that. I actually felt cheated.
May. 7th, 2009 08:58 pm (UTC)
I'm partial to a relatively small cast of main characters which will have recurring, or non-recurring, additions as needed.

Nero Wolfe, for instance.
May. 8th, 2009 03:33 am (UTC)
Yeah. No one is going for the single recurring character.

May. 8th, 2009 05:49 am (UTC)
I like options 4, 5 or 6. I really enjoy a recurring cast and ongoing subplot stuff. I do think that single recurring characters are fun, but they run a bit shallow.
May. 8th, 2009 03:33 pm (UTC)
I am sensing a theme here.
May. 8th, 2009 11:49 am (UTC)
I like ensembles. But note that I am not really a mystery reader, and it's mystery series that tend to have the single-recurring-character thing going on.

I think I picked either 4 or 5 (I forget which, now), and my analog was the Miles Vorkosigan books, which have lots of recurring characters and also new ones in the different books. Miles isn't even the MC in all of the books. What else have I been reading lately? Terry Pratchett's Tiffany Aching series, which has Tiffany + family members + recurring witches + the little blue men, of whom Rob Anybody is the most commonly appearing.
May. 8th, 2009 03:38 pm (UTC)
I considered using the Bujold books as one of the examples, but I haven't read enough of them to really get a sense of how she handles it.

Ensemble it is! I guess. Crap.
( 17 comments — Leave a comment )