Investing in a Character by James M. Jackson

I recently read a highly rated thriller. It was a page-turner, with action, and cliff-hangers, and more action. Good guys versus bad guys. The bad guys got badder and badder; the hero overcame his biggest fears and vanquished them. Great story, no plot holes, all story questions resolved. Well done, really.

And yet, I remember virtually nothing about it. I don’t recall the title, the author, the main character, the outfit for whom the character worked. Zip.

Attention spans are short, we’re told. For thrillers, people just want the action.

If so, I’m spitting into the wind: I prefer to read and write stories in which character development shares the stage with plot. I remember little of that story, not because of a failing brain, but because I did not become invested in the main character. Nothing significantly differentiated this hero from any other hero in a way that made me want to know what he did before or what he will do next.

One of the surest ways to engage my interest is through a main character’s family and friends. One of my goals is to give readers that same experience. When the Seamus McCree series started (Ant Farm), Seamus’s family comprised his mother, Trudy, (a darts-playing widow who had not spoken in decades); his son, Paddy, a college age white-hat hacker about to graduate; and an estranged sister of whom we knew nothing. In that novel, Seamus meets an assassin who calls himself the Happy Reaper.

My stories take place in real time, so years have passed between Ant Farm and Hijacked Legacy, the eighth book in the series. Seamus’s mother is about to celebrate her 85th birthday. She’s still playing darts and is now very verbal. Paddy is married, a stay-at-home father, and when necessary is still a white-hat hacker. The estranged sister has appeared and disappeared, but Seamus has discovered he also has a stepsister, who is following in his footsteps as a forensic accountant. Paddy’s daughter, Megan, is a force of nature with a strong bond to her Grandpa Seamus.

Throughout the series, readers get to know Seamus through his actions and his family relationships. I claim to write stories that explore financial crimes, family relationships, and what happens when they mix. If that’s the kind of story you like, check out Hijacked Legacy.

I’m curious whether you share my preference to invest in characters. I’d love to learn what you think in the comments.

Hijacked Legacy Blurb

What you don’t know can kill you.

The Happy Reaper, notorious for his chilling efficiency and “Results Guaranteed” calling card, escapes prison. Instead of killing Seamus McCree on sight, he offers a diabolical bargain with a heart-stopping proviso. To live, Seamus must help the Happy Reaper find and eliminate the upstart impostor who’s trashing the assassin’s reputation.

And Seamus must act quickly. Should the Happy Reaper’s bad heart give out or any harm come to him, the criminal underworld will wreak carnage on Seamus . . . and his loved ones.

Can Seamus outsmart the impostor and appease the Happy Reaper without staining his soul with blood? The only thing Seamus knows for sure is that time is running out for him and his family.

Purchase Links:

You can purchase Hijacked Legacy at your favorite online retailer or Indie Bookstore. This link will take you to Jim’s website, where you can find links to many online retailers:

 James M. (Jim) Jackson authors the Seamus McCree series, which includes 8 novels, 2 novellas, and several short stories. The first novel in the series, Ant Farm, was the 25th novel to win a Kindle Scout contract.

Jim is a life member of Sisters in Crime and a past president of the Guppy Chapter. He enjoys teaching and helping other authors as much as he does writing.

He calls home the deep woods of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. These days he is a snowbird with clipped wings, retreating south only as far as Madison, Wisconsin, when weather and road conditions make access to his U.P. home problematic.

You can find out more about Jim or sign up for his newsletter at his website

31 thoughts on “Investing in a Character by James M. Jackson”

  1. Thanks for sharing this, Debra! James, I too, love my characters and have so much enjoyed watching them grow. I’m working now on Book #15 in my Witch City Mystery series. (Kensington) Since Book #1 we’ve watched the relationship between Lee and Pete grow from cute meet, through friendship, engagement, marriage and now birth of baby. Along the way we’ve come to know tarot reader/witch River North, Lee’s librarian Aunt Ibby and her wanna-be detective girlfriends and the clairvoyant cat, O’Ryan. Since Lee’s story has come to what seemed to me to be the climax of her story arc, I suggested a spin-off series with Aunt Ibby as the POV character and the amateur sleuth girlfriends as the main cast members. New three-book contract and hardcover! Characters matter!

    1. I am also writing a spin-off series featuring one of the interesting secondary characters as the protagonist. Seamus McCree gets his opportunity to become a secondary character.
      ~ Jim

  2. Debra, thank you so much for introducing us to James M. Jackson–I’ve read one of his books, and now will be reading more! I too love it when we readers can become “invested” in a character–I just completed David Putnam’s 12-volume Bruno Johnson thriller series, can’t wait for more, but he has just released another series called “The Blind Devotion of Imogene,” which is another wonderful character to enjoy. Will definately pick up Hijacked Legacy now! Thanks!

    1. You are most welcome. I find with Jim’s books that I’m easily engaged with all of the characters rather than simply wondering what will happen with the protagonist. He does a great job making every character real.

  3. Grace Topping

    You hit on something that many thriller authors are guilty of—lots of action and no characterization. My husband pointed that out about Tom Clancy’s books.

  4. Hi Debra and Jim,
    This is so good. I love my characters, and I hope my readers do too, especially since I write series.
    Thank you so much for sharing! Take care.

    1. Jackie,
      It helps when an author loves the created characters because it usually helps make them more dimensional. When that happens, the reader identifies with them more easily. Thanks for stopping by today.

    2. James M. Jackson

      Jackie, you are very welcome. Did you catch the Mary Higgins Clark quote that Carol shared? Sounds like loving your characters is a very good idea!

      ~ Jim

  5. Kathleen M Rockwood

    Action-packed thrillers can be fun, but I do love a character I remember long after I’ve finished reading the book.

  6. I heard the Mary Higgins Clark quote some years ago when she was being interviewed on Patzi Gil’s Joy On Paper radio show. I liked it so much I wrote it down. I may not have it exactly. Patzi could probably find it.I’ll ask her.

  7. I agree that characters are the most important part of any story, any genre. I’ve surveyed readers many times about this, and they always vote on the side of the characters.

    1. Interesting that you surveyed readers on this topic. I’m not surprised with the result — although book sales of some famous authors might suggest not all readers agree — but our readers agree and that’s what counts.

  8. I find this topic fascinating, Debra and James. I am ALMOST finished with a thriller and was just noticing the same thing as mused a bit before falling asleep last night. My stories are SO MUCH MORE character-driven. I decided that if I wrote the same amount of adventure and action WITH my tendency to explore the characters’ feelings and interpersonal thoughts (beyond those focused on solving the mystery and surviving the moment), then the book would end up being 400 pages long and would never get sold. Do you think that’s true? Thanks for this post.

    1. You need to find a happy blend of the two… enough action to keep the readers engaged in what is happening to the characters. Sadly, 400 pages is probably too many words for a book to be picked up….. good-luck paring it down and finding the right balance.

    2. Hi Pamela, I agree with Debra that 400 pages would be a tough sell. One thing I’ve discovered as I pare down too-long manuscripts is that a little can go a long way. I often find my manuscripts repeat something — as though I didn’t trust the reader to get it the first time! Good luck.

    1. Your comment got me thinking that my good guys and gals always have families; my villains only sometimes do. I’ll need to think about that.

  9. Great post, Jim. As an author, my characters are most important. As a reader and tv mystery show watcher, I always remember the characters, especially if it’s a series, but often don’t remember who the killer was.

    1. Loved your comment — it makes it easier to reread a book or rewatch a show…. but that aside, your point is that you turn in and are engaged by the characters. That to me is key in books or tv.

    2. I find that interesting, Marilyn. I do usually remember who the killer is — maybe that’s the reason I generally don’t re-read books or watch reruns of shows I’ve seen before.

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