Michael Haskins

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Right Age/ Fictional Characters

Michael Haskins was kind enough to ask me to put together an article for his blog, suggesting as a subject how my series character Noah Milano was allowed to grow and all problems that come with it.

It is a common problem for series characters to be outdated with the passing of time. Spenser should be an old fart by now, having fought in Korea. His creator (Robert B Parker) chose to more or less ignore this fact. Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch seems to age in real time, which had his creator retire his hero for a book or two until he got lucky and the retirement age for cops was extended. The Punisher (from Marvel Comics) used to be a Vietnam veteran that lost his family to the mob. In his first movie they made him a cop because he’d just had to be too old. Similarly, in the movie version of the A-team they updated the characters into soldiers of the war in Iraq instead of Vietnam.

With all of that in mind I made sure my main character, Noah Milano, was pretty young in his first story (http://www.thrillingdetective.com/fiction/00_06_2.html) and novel (http://www.amazon.com/Knight-Syndrome-Milano-Mystery-ebook/dp/B006N0MBI0/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1331714278&sr=1-2) so he could go years without becoming too old to kick some serious ass or bed all the hot girls. Of course, that wasn’t the only reason I made him in his twenties in his first story. When I wrote that one I was the same age, and although I loved guys like Matt Scudder, Spenser and Amos Walker I also couldn’t quite relate to their divorces, or love for jazz. So, Noah liked metal, hadn’t had any meaningful relationships. Instead, he was a young guy who just left home and was trying to find himself through a new job. That I could relate to.

Now, more than 13 years later Noah has become a bit older as well, like I have. When he tells his friend (Minnie) in the novella I’m working on now that he isn’t much of an investigator (he specializes in security and body guarding) she tells him he solved way too many murders for that one still to fly. With those words I acknowledge the fact he’s slowly been changing and aging. Generally I don’t change the character too much though. He’s still single, he’s still trying to find redemption for the life he used to live as a fixer for his father (an LA mobster). That’s because every story can be the first one a reader gets in his hands and I don’t want to feel they’ve been left out. Lee Child really does a good job of that too, but of course Jack Reacher’s military past (and acknowledgment of his exact age) might harm his longevity.

In twenty years Noah will be about sixty years old. Will I have him age along with me until that time comes? I’m not sure. Hey, I’m not sure people will be reading about him to justify him being around that long. What I do know is that I’m happy I studied the masters enough to know the pitfalls of a series character and did my best to avoid them.


Peter DiChellis said...

Thanks for this post. In recent inteviews, Connelly said Bosch wiil retire for good in the next couple of years. The twist: Bosch's daughter might become a cop and carry on.

Of course, Connelly also has other series characters to work with.

What do you think of setting stories in a character's past, essentially the real-time aged character recounting a case from his/her younger days, usually tied to a current triggering event?

Nathan Gottlieb said...

Good thinking, Jochem. And Peter, as for setting a story in the past, it will work and has worked if the character is like Reacher, with a great history. He did one or two,I read it and really liked seeing his past. Can't recall the books names. I write a series, too, "The Frank Boff Mystery Series," and I can't set it in his past. He was a legendary DEA agent, which is good stuff for a story, but Boff soured on the justice system and after 10 years, he quit the DEA and became a PI, who helps defend felons, in much the same way Connelly's Lincoln Lawyer does. Boff today is a cynic. Boff in the DEA was as he often says, "patriotic and committed to ridding the world of bad guys. Two different people. Reacher was always Reacher. He was born Reacher. Here's a link to the first book in my series if you are interested, Peter: "The Hurting Game" http://www.amazon.com/dp/B008U1MZ54

jvdsteen said...

Jude Hardin recently pulled the trick you mention, Peter with "Colt". Block did it with his latest Scudder novels. While it is always good to read Scudder it's too bad we already know where Scudder is going with his life, destroying some of the magic of the story. I think Reed Coleman did a good job with Onion Street though, really showing how Moe Prager became the man he is now.
Reacher's past was interesting. I think David Baldacci is kinda writing about Reacher's past with his Puller series ;-)
Nathan, I think it might be a cool idea to do a short story with Boff in his DEA days...

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