Don’t tell anyone, will you, but one of the writing projects I’m working on is a standalone (well, thus far a standalone) that features a character from one of my Joel Williams novels. By the time the book is ready for human consumption, it will have been a few years since we ‘met’ this character. And that means that (hopefully), the character’s done some growing and maturing. After all, as we get older, have experiences, and so on, we hopefully learn and become more mature.
That’s one of the advantages, really, of following (and writing) a series. Readers can follow along as characters grow, evolve, and mature. And authors can enrich their characters and explore them. This allows for all sorts of possibilities.
Agatha Christie’s main characters don’t really evolve and mature the way some other authors’ characters do. Hercule Poirot has aged considerably in Curtain, and Miss Marple becomes warmer, more compassionate, and less of a gossip in later novels than she is in The Murder at the Vicarage. But Christie didn’t really focus on character evolution over time in the same way that some other authors have.
Lawrence Block’s Matthew Scudder has evolved considerably as the series featuring him has gone on. In the first novel, The Sins of the Fathers, he is still reeling from a tragic accidental shooting that caused him to leave the New York Police Department. He drinks far too much, he and his wife have parted ways, and he’s at loose ends, as the saying goes. Over time, Scudder slowly starts to pick up the pieces. He stops drinking and starts attending AA meetings. And, although his alcoholism is always a struggle for him, Scudder makes the commitment to stay sober. He finds love again, too. As you can imagine, he never ‘gets over’ the shooting that changed his life. That scar is permanent. But he learns to live with it, if I can put it that way.
When we first meet Alexander McCall Smith’s Mma Grace Makutsi (in The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency), she is an overeager graduate of the Botswana College of Secretarial and Office Skills. She is bright and hard-working, but she has growing to do (don’t we all!). Over the course of the novels, Mma Makutski gains some confidence and learns that sometimes, rules are made to be – erm – flexible. She also develops an interest in and talent for detection, so that she becomes an Associate Detective who investigates cases just like her boss, Mma Precious Ramotswe.
In Jane Casey’s The Burning, we are introduced to her sleuth, Met Detective Constable (DC) Maeve Kerrigan. In The Reckoning, Casey introduces another regular character/fellow sleuth, Detective Inspector (DI) Josh Derwent. When we first meet him, Derwent has the reputation for being,
‘…obsessively hard-working and infinitely aggressive.’
He’s not overly pleased to be working with women (one of whom, Una Bart, ends up outranking him). And he’s not much of a ‘team player.’ Over time, he does do some growing. He slowly learns to pay attention to his colleagues’ views of cases. And he grudgingly starts to learn that women can be highly competent and professional colleagues. None of it’s easy for him, and he butts heads with Kerrigan quite often. But he does do some growing.
Anthony Bidulka’s Russell Quant also does his share of growing as the series featuring him goes on. When we first meet him in Amuse Bouche, he’s recently hung out his shingle as a PI in Saskatoon. He isn’t really reckless or rash, nor is he completely immature (he’s in his thirties as the series begins). Still, he does have some growing and maturing to do, especially when it comes to personal relationships. Over the course of the eight-novel series, Quant matures in more than one way. For one thing, he learns the value of the friendships he’s made. I don’t want to spoil story arcs, but that’s an important part of his growth. He also learns sometimes-painful lessons about what it takes to form and keep an intimate partnership. Oh, and by the way, if you’re reading this, Mr. Bidulka, I think Quant has had a long enough hiatus. I would love to see another Quant outing! Hint, hint… Just sayin’
And then there’s Vicki Delany’s Constable Moonlight ‘Molly’ Smith, whom we first meet in In the Shadow of the Glacier. In that novel, she’s recently started her work in the small British Columbia town of Trafalgar, where she grew up. When she finds the body of wealthy developer Reginald Montgomery in an alley one night, she and Sergeant John Winters get involved in a murky case of murder. Things are awkward for Smith at first in several ways. She’s just learning her job (and she makes her share of mistakes as the series goes on). She’s also working in the town where she grew up, and it’s a challenge to establish her identity as an adult there. Over time, she develops confidence, and ‘grows into her uniform.’ She also grows personally, as she copes with love and loss in her private life.
And that’s the thing about well-rounded characters. Like real-life people, they grow over time. Hopefully, they become more mature And part of the pleasure of a series is watching the characters develop over time. Space has only allowed for a few examples here. Your turn.
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Don’t Cry For Me Argentina.