When Research Meets Pleasure–an ongoing relationship with Jack Reacher.

Lee Child books

Being the author of an ongoing series, I am fascinated by how authors keep their characters fresh and their readers wanting more. My son suggested Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels as an interesting case study. After reading the first three books, I was hooked. Research quickly gave way to pleasure as I read every single book. The feature on Kindle that directs me to purchase the next book in the series as soon as I have finished the previous one is extremely helpful – translation – irresistible.

With my research hat on, I asked myself, what makes Jack Reacher a hero who bears up through so many novels? Well … he’s quirky. His constant pursuit of coffee made me love him. Black, steaming hot and out of a thick white mug. Reacher is all about his coffee.

Coffee cup - google images

Then there is his abhorrence for personal possessions – exempting his signature folding toothbrush – this leads to any number of odd and humorous situations. Buying new clothes every three days just adds to Reacher’s quirky mystique. When he remarked that he was amazed to discover second-hand janitorial wear, I cringed and said to myself – Oh my God, Jack – no.

Don’t let Hollywood fool you. Tom Cruise is not Jack Reacher. He is as far from Jack Reacher as anyone could get. Just my opinion. Reacher has hands like pancakes, mussed up hair, cheap, baggy clothing and enough scars to make you cringe, he’s no Don Juan. And he knows it. He’s self-deprecating to a fault.

As the authors of serial fiction, what can we glean from Lee Child’s success? First, we shouldn’t be afraid to create a quirky character. Readers end up loving the eccentricities. One caveat – there must be a reason for the character’s quirkiness. Random weirdness is not what we are after.

The Littlest Hobo - google images

Lee has created a wonderful Littlest Hobo persona for his main character. Jack Reacher roams from town to town making things right.

There’s a voice that keeps on calling me
Down the road is where I’ll always be

Every stop I make, I’ll make a new friend
Can’t stay for long, just turn around and I’m gone again.

Maybe tomorrow, I’ll want to settle down,
Until tomorrow, I’ll just keep moving on.

Down this road, that never seems to end,
Where new adventure, lies just around the bend. (Maybe Tomorrow – Terry Bush – Theme song from the Littlest Hobo)

Reacher’s sense of justice is unfailing. He can always be counted on to handle anything thrown at him in terms of physical demands, he always ends up with some girl – though not always the glamour girl. He is more a man who falls into various situations when it comes to women. Some of his relationships last over a couple of books. Some he returns to books later, but Jack is the quintessential wanderer and the beauty of him is that he won’t settle down. Down the road is where he’ll always be.

The movement around the United States is another fascinating aspect of the Jack Reacher novels. In each state and city Reacher finds himself, Child lavishes on location details – streets, landmarks, climate and local customs. It’s like being on a road trip.

Another gleaning – locations rich in detail work well to move characters and books along. Discovering a new city through the eyes of a well-known character is a reader’s delight.

Lee Child does an excellent job at doling out Reacher’s history. Whole books are devoted to his time in the army as an MP and these additions to the series answers the questions that pop up for readers who follow Reacher from town to town and wonder what can possibly motivate him to act as he does.

Our final gleaning is to create a character with a past complicated enough to keep his or her internal struggles going strong book after book. Jack Reacher’s past will take him the rest of his life to work out and that serves Lee Child well. And another caveat – that internal struggle must lead, though it may be halting and awkward at times, to ongoing character development. No reader will put up with being stuck with a character on a long-term basis who isn’t learning and changing.

There you have it. Recipe for a hit series. Makes you want to start doodling around with some character profile cards, doesn’t it? Meanwhile, here’s me thinking I might re-read the whole series.

Street Sculpture - Ottawa

Are You a Fan of Serialized Fiction?

Game of Thrones

Be it via novel, movie or TV, I am a big fan of series. Words like book one or episode one make my heart beat faster. I love the way the series format allows character arcs to develop over time. I gain emotional satisfaction from the breadth and depth and incredible scope. And I don’t think I’m alone in these feelings. Consider the success of HBO’s Game of Thrones or Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels. And few will fault the creators of the Lord of the Rings or Star Wars movies. Well, at least not in my hearing!

Star Wars

As a novelist writing a series with multiple view-points and a large and vibrant cast, I sometimes face censor for the dearth of characters (all with their own unique stories) for the reader to keep track of. But when I look out into the world of serialized storytelling across delivery mode, I see a great hunger for the detail rich, character heavy saga type of story that I’m writing. 

Twitter Banner 3

To illustrate this view, a reader emailed me the other day to tell me how much she loved Disappearing in Plain Sight. These are her words:

Your character development is excellent and your storyline complex but completely believable! You are quite the writer in keeping the climax climbing a very long time but you sure tie things up in quiet a bow!

Many thanks! That is exactly what I am trying to do.

Conn Iggulden War of the Roses

I’ve just finished Conn Iggulden’s War of the Roses series. Though he may play loose with historical time lines and break the head-hopping point-of-view rule, his books are amazing. Just darn good storytelling. Kudos as well to Phillipa Gregory’s books written from the viewpoint of the female characters who lived during the War of Roses and the Tudor era. I’ve read and loved them all.

I’m not a slave to genre. I’m in for any book, movie or TV series that demonstrates good character development. As the characters gain awareness, so do I.

Jack Reacher

I’ve read all the Jack Reacher novels and am in awe of Child’s ability to keep me coming back for more. He doles out the details of Reacher’s life at just the right titrated levels. I felt the same about Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch books. I’ve sat in rapt attention watching Game of Thrones as I did with Firefly or Stranger Things or CBC’s Heartland.

Heartland

Even a character like Groot in the Guardian of the Galaxy movies has room for growth and thus something important to teach.

Groot

How do you feel about serialized fiction? Are you up for investing hours in either reading or viewing instalment after instalment, following characters new and old through the breadth and depth of their life experience? Let me know and tell me about your favourites.