Staying in Character by Maggie Toussaint
When writing a series mystery, writers should strive for all their characters to “stay in character” throughout the series. A deviation in characterization is a red flag for editors and readers alike.
Some writers use programs such as Scrivener to keep track of character traits. I must admit it sounds nice to have a rolling story bible like this, but I’ve always gone old school and made notes in a file about my characters. When I finish one book in the series, I copy the electronic file of characters and move it to the next file folder.
As easy as it is to click over and refer to that folder, I’ve occasionally gone on a tangent without referencing the file because of a muse-insisted-upon situation. That often leads to rewriting, which I have done to either remove the outlier character trait or to find a way to incorporate the new information into her/his persona.
My female protagonist in the Seafood Caper Mysteries, River Holloway, began with a short story. I liked her so much that I created a series around her catering business and her island home. She began as a young woman with a broken heart who reluctantly agrees to cater a function for her ex.
The key to River’s personality is her big heart, family loyalty, her wonderful cooking, her organizational abilities, and professional competence. That’s a lot to start with, but there’s one more thing. She’s good at finding things, which is how she gets drawn into being an amateur sleuth.
In the course of the series, she faces challenges in her business, in her relationship with Pete, in pet ownership, and in solving crimes. With each story she grows more confident in who she is.
In Seas the Day, her childhood friend goes missing and shortly thereafter, his mother is murdered. River draws on her memories and personal network to find answers. She’d love to clear enough from catering to pay the bills, to marry her fiancé, Pete, and to have a baby.
In Spawning Suspicion, River searches for an island playboy’s killer because her brother is accused of his murder. She marries Pete in this book and fights to keep her home. These personal challenges make her dig deep to better define what she’s capable of doing.
And lastly, in Shrimply Dead, River’s veterinarian friend is fatally ambushed in her yard. Between searching for the killer, River expands her business, and for the first time ever makes enough money to pay her a decent salary. So far she has accomplished 2 out of 3 of her series goals, with only conception eluding her.
Keeping a character like River true to herself as she grows and changes builds a bond with the reader and invests them in the story world. That’s what we all want, right? Let’s keep those pages turning!
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Southern author Maggie Toussaint writes cozy and paranormal mysteries, romantic suspense, and dystopian fiction, with more than twenty fiction novels published. A multi-year finalist for Georgia Author of the Year, she’s won Silver Falchions, two different Readers’ Choice awards, and the EPIC Award. She’s past president of Mystery Writers of America-Southeast chapter and an officer of LowCountry Sisters In Crime. She lives in coastal Georgia, where secrets, heritage, and ancient oaks cast long shadows. Visit her at https://maggietoussaint.com/