Friday, February 26, 2021

Writing: Recurring Characters


I'm fond of reading (for the third or fourth time, sometimes) the work of authors who published many years ago. One example is Ross Thomas, published some time ago, whose work is timeless. His stories, when brought up to date, have a ring of being there--stories of machinations reminiscent of what is undoubtedly going on behind today's headlines. One rule he doesn't seem to mind violating is the one about recurring characters in his novels. As authors, we're encouraged to either use a fresh set of characters in our next story, or--if we insist in using the same ones in our next book--using copious notes to avoid tripping ourselves up along the way.

Thomas, for example, in the book I'm currently re-reading (Chinaman's Chance), tells how a character is killed off during an ambush, but in a subsequent book he shows her being assassinated in a completely different way. He gives a police chief an excellent name (Oscar Ploughman) but then sets him in the same character in a different book with a totally different background. I'm willing to forgive these missteps, mainly because of the writing that Thomas sells, but they show how he ignores the "rules" that authors are given. It shows me that rules aren't a guarantee of success in a book--good writing overcomes slavishly following the rules. Every time.

Have you found errors and ignoring rules in the works of some authors? And are you willing to give those breaches because the writing is so good?


Priscilla Bettis said...

Shirley Jackson used the same name in various stories for different characters (different settings, different timeframe, truly different characters). Margaret, James, and Natalie are three I remember. It doesn't bother me at all.

The only time I think it would bother me is if, say, Margaret is a main character in a series, but basic things about her change drastically. Her date of birth, her peanut allergy, her husband's name . . . changes in stuff like that would bother me if it's really supposed to be the same character.

Richard Mabry said...

I have nothing against using the same name for a character who plays the same part (chief of police, for example), so long as he/she isn't killed in one book and resurrected in another. But it seems better to use a different name where possible.

Patricia Bradley said...

I'll forgive just about anything if the writing is good and I've fallen in love with the characters and have to know how it comes out. :-)

Richard Mabry said...

OK, but what if the character is unlovable, and one with the same name shows up in another book and you like that one? Sort of like "love the sinner, hate the sin" I guess.