I'm ambivalent about series--whether they be books, movies, or TV. I want series characters to grow and change organically, not repeat themselves too often. If they change too fast, though, the series is bound to be shorter.

What's your preference as a reader/viewer? If you're a series writer, what's your approach? I've written five stories in a series about a 1930s pilot-for-hire. I've tried planning them in advance, but have had the most success listening for my protag's voice and writing the story he's prepared to tell. So far the stories have jumped around in time ala Mosley's Easy Rawlins. This strikes me as one way to keep things fresh.

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I enjoy both. I can appreciate the Nero Wolfe model, where the characters are the same throughout and the reader can jump in at any point. And I also admire the Spenser series, where they seem to be aging at about half the normal rate but subsequent novels refer to the events in previous ones.

I think Max Allan Collins's Nathan Heller series (my current favorite) follows the line your pilot has chosen: The books in that series (after the first few) jump around in time, depending on when the real-life mystery Heller is "investigating" took place. However, he has managed to keep the internal timeline intact, and refers to friendships (and otherwise) that occurred in "earlier" novels (often that were written later).
Speaking for the average reader, I believe people return to a series protagonist because he/she is familiar and they know what to expect from the book.
In my case, unchanging characters and situations pall quickly. I stopped reading Grafton after H, and am no longer reading Evanovich -- though she did make me laugh out loud in her earlier books. At the very least, the plot scenario has to change for me and the methods used by the protagonist. But these days, protagonists are human beings with private lives. It is simply not believable that these are static.

As a writer, I knew from book one that my protagonist would age and change. I see the series as one long novel about one man's life, from the start of adulthood to old age.
Much as I enjoy long-running series, events supposedly become stories because they are significant to the characters. One of the benefits of a series is the ability to show/see how particular events or acquaintances change the course of characters' lives. If the characters don't change enough over time, individual stories lose their impact and start to blur together. I don't want to feel that a single book's events ultimately meant nothing to the characters.
As a reader, I'm a follower of certain series by authors I trust to give me the old and familiar--the reason I fell in love with their characters to begin with. The storylines can change and the conflicts, but I still want to see the tried and true characters deal with it. They can evolve and grow but I like the idiosyncracies to remain the same--sort of an inside joke between the reader and the author. Robert Crais shows great skill in his portrayal of Elvis Cole, PI. In the beginning, Elvis was a smart-ass PI but over the series, you begin to see he wields humor and his Hawaiian shirts like a bulletproof vest, trying to protect his soft underbelly. And his sidekick Joe Pike does much the same thing with his constant wearing of sun glasses. He keeps anyone from getting too close. The core character remains the same but facets change to reveal something deeply personal in their past. I love this series.

When an author's characters become too "tame" however (married, domesticated, settled, & boring) I tend to lose interest.

I'm starting my first series and have decided to involve three main characters that will play different parts through the continuing saga. I've seen other authors introduce secondary characters in one book but make them main characters in the next and roll on down the line. That seems interesting too.

Thanks for bringing this interesting topic up, Gerald. I'd love to hear what others think.
I read for character so I tend to like series. IMHO, some authors do a very good job of having their character grow and change over time. Examples who spring to mind are Dana Stabenow with Kate Shugak and Marsha Muller with Sharon McCone. I just finished Mark de Castrique's newest book "Final Undertaking" in which he does a wonderful job of moving his character to the next level. Then there are those other series I may enjoy, but whose characters are stuck; Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum, Lee Child's Jack Reacher and Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone come to mind for those.

I do also read author's standalones--Harlan Coben, Dennis Lehane, Michael Connolly--and I can understand the appeal from the author's viewpoint. It really depends upon the skill of the author to involve me with the character and make me care about their story. As a reader, however, I've been disappointed in as many of those standalones as I've been pleased by them. It really depends upon the skill of the author to involve me with the character and make me care about their story. But that's just me.

LJ
Like Ingrid, I see my series as one big story about a group of people. My people are set in a small town in Puerto Rico. Of course, St Martins Press has published them out of order so the effect I wanted of my main character learning and filling in as a humna as the years roll by has been diluted somewhat. In fact, in the fifth novel (which was the first I wrote) the reader will see him become more naive...
Steven just won one of the Derringers!!! For the short short, was it? Major congratulations!

And St. Martin's also publishesd my series out of order. It drives my fans wild and I'm forever anwswering e-mails. We're finally getting on track with Penguin.
I like series. When I find a set of characters that I like, I appreciate their familiar haunts and on-going challenges. I also like it when an series author surprizes me. It can be the end of a popular side kick or a long term relationship, or a plot twist that sets me up to belive the character is dead/gone, only to have them show up in the last chapter (Julia Spencer Flemming's latest comes to mind).

I'm writing a series now and hoping it gets picked up as such.
I like series, much of the time. I don't like the ones where the series character doesn't change or where the same scenarios reappear book after book - Evanovich and Martha Grimes have the same goofy characters gather and have the same goofy conversations book after book - yawn. Though I understand that might be comforting, like knowing when you go to McDonald's you won't be stumped by the menu choices. But there are series where not only the characters grow, but so does the writer. Ian Rankin's books have grown more complex over the years, and so has Rebus. Same with Laura Lippman's series.

I was so sad when Robert Eversz ended the Nina Zero series. I know that's a character who will continue to have a life I would be interested in - but the series itself had an arc and he was probably wise to end it. (Sob! I'm gonna miss you, Nina.)

Right now I'm reading Michael Robotham's books (out of order, totally) and they're brilliant because instead of having a series character, each book is told from the POV of a secondary character from another book. Each has a unique voice, but as a whole they are a wonderful ensemble. And you get fresh glimpses of the characters not because they're different, but because you're seeing them from someone else's perspective (and someone you thought you knew is quite different when you're inside their head).

I personally can't plan anything in advance. I can't even make a grocery list.
I write a series character named Julie Collins. I love writing her. But I hope she's not all I ever write (well, she isn't, but she's the only mystery character who's seen print so far)

Most authors don't have the guts to kill off characters, or affect serious changes.

I think that's why authors who write a series, eventually launch a new series with new characters or switch to standalones. Unlike the classic Def Lepard line "It's better to burn out, than fade away", it's easier to let readers believe those characters they've followed for several books, are just waiting in the wings for the author to quit dicking around with standalones and get back to those characters and tell their next story. God forbid the author would really love to kill off one of the main characters to make it a better book with higher stakes.

There's an article in this month's Romantic Times BOOKClub Magazine about authors killing off "beloved" characters. And the main concensus from those authors, who've actually taken the bold step? Never again. They've gotten hate mail, etc., but the worst reality, is legions of fans swear they will never ever ever buy another one of those authors books. How do you make a living if you've pissed off the people paying to read your work? We can talk about the necessity to change things up, not falling into the same trap that other writers do, the ones who NEED to retire their tired characters and annoying sidekicks.

So, the question is: do you kill the cash cow? Or do you keep writing the same book (or screenplay) over and over? Do you take a chance and kill off a character readers love, only to have them hate you, but you've got the respect of the your peers?

Do you go out with a bang? Or a whimper?

It'll be interesting to see what JK Rowling does with Harry Potter :) The strange thing is, if she does kill him off, I think the reaction will be 50/50 - those who saw it coming, and those who have to believe in happily ever after.
I tend to prefer series. Mainly because if I land on one I like then chances are if another comes out I'll enjoy it. Standalones can be very much pot-luck.
As for tv. I tend to prefer the way the Brits do series. Either half a dozen tele-movies or a short series of a dozen or so. That way it doesn't get stale. Prime examples of short series is the new Doctor Who and a series called New Tricks. There was a very different one called Life on Mars. They called it quits after just 2 series of a dozen episodes each.
As a reader/viewer, I like to have a sense of familiarity with the characters. That's what attracted me to those books/movies/shows to begin with and I don't want surprises. Well, you know, nothing drastic.

In my current novel, the first in the series, my protag definitely changes from begining to end, but he had to. It introduces him as a young detective who is content to let others make the decision. The his life gets disrupted by certain events and suspicions and transforms him into the man that will emerge in the rest of the series. I think I need to keep the continuity of the character in the other books for the same reason I follow other series, at the same time, each book has to show some growth in character.

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