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July 11, 2015

Something to wonder about when you can’t sleep.  Why is it that an author can have two or three series with different characters but only one catches the imagination of thousands of readers?

Do you know the creators of the following protagonists?  Tecumseh Fox was a private detective working in Westchester County, New York.  The author’s most famous characters are a pair of Manhattan private investigators who began their careers in the 1930s.*  Were you aware that district attorney Doug Selby came from the imagination of a man who was the best-selling writer in America at the time of his death?**  Or that the person who is still the world’s third best-selling author (after Shakespeare and the Bible) wrote a series of books featuring a husband-and-wife spy duo that is barely read today?***

Why does a certain character capture readers’ interest while another, created by the same man or woman, doesn’t?  I’m guessing it’s not the writing style or the plot, since that author has already shown mastery in those areas, so what is it?

I think that some characters are so strong, so vibrant, that they almost transcend the page.  Not every character that an author presents is that successful, as evidenced by the second paragraph of this post.  These characters might interest readers for a novel or two, but after that affection for them flags.  And I use the word affection deliberately because I think that’s what keeps a series alive.

If you look at it objectively, the pairing of an overweight Manhattan P.I. and his wise-ass sidekick wouldn’t seem to have anything over a Westchester detective.  But Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin were in thirty-three novels while Tecumseh Fox was featured in only three.  Doug Selby is the protagonist in nine of Gardner’s mysteries, while Perry Mason defended clients in over eighty, not counting his television appearances.  And Tuppence and Tommy Beresford were featured in four of Agatha Christie’s works, while Hercule Poirot appeared in thirty-three books, plus many TV shows.

When I mentioned this post to my husband, he said that perhaps the reviews of the other series by these successful writers weren’t good.  That’s definitely a possibility, but even so the question remains why?  If a writer can write multiple books featuring certain protagonists that capture the public’s interest and get good reviews, why can’t that writer do it with all her/his other characters?

Just asking, that’s all.

*Rex Stout   **Earle Stanley Gardner   ***Agatha Christie





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