I used to read a lot of cozy mysteries. In fact, they launched a lifelong love of mysteries…Nancy Drew, Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayer, and so forth. As the years passed, I found plenty of new cozy authors whose protagonists were bakers, bookshop owners, and artisans, among other things. The plots weren’t overly complex and there was usually only one subplot, but part of the attraction of cozies is that they’re light, fun reads, and sometimes I need that.
Whenever I came across an author I really enjoyed, I tried another of the individual’s series, but it usually proved to be a bit of a letdown. The reason for this was the protagonist’s voice. That character sounded identical in vocabulary, tone, and favorite catch words to the previous series’ protagonist. I felt as if I was reading the same book. For some readers the similarity might be okay, but I wanted a little more. What I’ve learned from firsthand experience, though, is that doing more isn’t easy.
Many of us create protagonists that are composites of people we’ve come across in our lives. These characters might also be completely fictional, however, the phrasing, word choices, and reaction to situations, are often drawn from our own background and experiences. As a starting point, that’s fine, but do we want to spend our entire writing lives creating the same protagonist?
Maybe the answer’s yes for some, particularly if you’ve created a complex, multi-faceted character; however, I’m trying to create something different from what I’ve done before, especially now that I’m working in a separate genre. It’s been challenging. All those notes I’ve made about unique and hopefully memorable characters don’t always fully appear on the page until a few rewrites later, and even then I still wonder.
One of the many things I admire about Agatha Christie is that although Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot are both intelligent, thoughtful, and introverted, they’re very different characters, beyond Hercule’s accent.
I read somewhere, quite some time ago, that authors (regardless of genre) also tend to focus on the same theme in their work. They focus on a certain type of character, a certain type of problem, which is tackled from different angles with every book. Have you noticed this? Is repetition in characters’ voice and theme a problem for you as a reader? As a writer?