One of the things I love most about a series is watching how the characters grow. It is more than how the deal with a particular situation that could result in life or death. It is how they relate to the people and world around them. I want characters who aren’t cardboard cutouts. I need to be able to relate to them, to their humanity, for lack of a better word.
I’m not explaining this very well — I blame it on not having enough coffee yet. So let me try again. I want to see characters who have character faults, who have challenges to meet without becoming a cardboard superhero to do so. I want them to be realistic, within the setting of the story and their own backstories, in how they respond to a situation. But I also want them to know they have faults and weaknesses and try to work to improve, or at least work with those weaknesses so they don’t keep hiding in the proverbial corner.
I started by saying I love seeing this growth in a series but, truth to tell, I love it in single novels as well. The difference is a series gives the author more time — and more situations — which can help lead to that growth. Of course, there are exceptions. Books like Gone with the Wind, 75th Anniversary Edition or A Woman of Substance (Harte Family Saga Book 1), books where years and even decades of a character’s life are covered should also have growth. It can be growth in a good way or bad, but it should be there.
That growth is something I have had to look at with my work. I hope I have done it. I think I have, at least with my two major series.
Mackenzie Santos has probably been the most challenging to write because her world has been turned upside down. Things she once thought were nothing more than the imaginings of filmmakers and authors are the realities of her life. When Nocturnal Origins opens, Mac doesn’t know what is happening to her. She is afraid she is losing her mind. Maybe the pressures of being a cop have finally gotten to her and she’s cracked. Or maybe almost dying after being attacked before the book began did it. All she knows for sure is that weird things are happening and there is no logical explanation for them.
When she finally accepts the fact that she is a shapeshifter, something she never knew existed outside of film and book, she is faced with having to either live up to the oaths she took as a cop, oaths she has held pretty much sacrosanct for almost ten years, or stepping outside the bounds of those oaths to protect not only the “normals” but her own people as well.
It’s not a decision she makes easily nor is it one she doesn’t have second, third and one-hundredth doubts about. If she holds to the oaths she took as a cop, oaths that are a very real part of who she is, she knows her actions can and probably will lead to the discovery of shapeshifters. That discovery, she knows, would be very bad on so many different levels. There was the risk of public panic, panic that could make the witch hunts of old look tame. Then there were those with little regard for anything other than their own financial gain who would try to use the shapeshifters for who knew what, none of it good. Add to that the fear of what the government might do. . . and she is having to make decisions that don’t sit easily.
Over the course of the next three books and one novella, Mac learns more about her heritage and begins the journey of mending fences with her mother. By the time we get to Nocturnal Challenge (Nocturnal Lives Book 4), she has come to a balance — sometimes precarious — between who she was and who she is now. She is still a cop but she is a shifter and that means she sometimes has to apply shifter law instead of the law on the books. But it all comes down to protecting the innocent, no matter who they are. Of course, now she is having to wrap her mind around the fact that she has to make a decision about what course to follow where her fellow shapeshifters are concerned. Does she pledge to the ruling council, even if she doesn’t agree with what they are doing, or does she follow her conscience and help find a way to ease her new people out of the shadows before their existence is revealed through modern technology? Add in government entanglements and personal desires and a younger sister who is more headstrong than wise, and her life is nothing but interesting.
And wouldn’t she give almost anything for a run-of-the-mill murder case? Things were much simpler when she thought she knew all the rules.
Ashlyn Shaw, the lead character from Honor and Duty (3 Book Series) presents a different set of challenges. Her world and those she care for betrayed her. At least that’s what she believes when Vengeance from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 1) opens. She has spent two years at a military penal colony. Those of her squad who had not been killed on their last mission had been court martialed and convicted along with her. Isolated from family and friends, betrayed by her government and the Corps she loved, she has had two years to grow bitter and plot her vengeance. All she has to do is survive her time at the penal colony.
Except her world is turned upside down again and she is brought back to her home planet. Things have changed in the last two years. Those responsible for what happened to her are no longer in control. At least that is what she’s told. But does she dare trust them? She had made that mistake once and she was damned if she would do so again.
When the capital is attacked, instinct and duty take over. They are strong enough to keep her from deserting and going after those she holds responsible for what happens. Not that she gives up those plans. No, she will do what is necessary to keep those few who supported her safe and then she would go hunting. She didn’t care if it meant a return to the penal colony or even her death. She would avenge those who had died because of their betrayal. Maybe then she would be able to sleep at night.
Ash is, to be honest, broken in a lot of ways. Duty, ingrained in her from birth, keeps her from doing what she wants. But she keeps telling herself she will make sure her comrades are avenged, no matter what the personal cost. Even as she begins to trust again, that need is still there. It breaks through from time to time, causing her to take action she would never have done before being brought up on charges. However, over the course of the next three books, she slowly heals emotionally. Part of it is because her champions are smart enough to surround her with those she does trust. Part is because she sees who things have changed. It doesn’t mean she believes such a betrayal can’t happen again. Politics can cause almost anything to happen. But she won’t be so naive as to not take steps to protect herself and those under her command if her instincts start shouting about something not being right.
It’s not an instant emotional or mental healing. The doubts flare up, sometimes at the worst possible moment. She doesn’t always recognize them — at least not at the moment.
I hope I get all that across, for both Mac and Ashlyn. In my mind, that growth, and the internal struggles the growth causes, help make them more interesting characters. Hopefully, my readers agree.
You can find both series, as well as my other work, on Amazon.